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Sunday, October 3, 1999 Published at 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK

World: Europe

Police confront Belgrade marchers

Opposition leaders Vladan Batic, Zoran Djindjic and Cedomir Jovanovic march in Belgrade

Riot police in the Serbian capital Belgrade have pushed back around 10,000 demonstrators marching in defiance of a ban on protests.

BBC News' Jacky Rowland: Opposition in danger of losing its way
The protesters were heading for a Belgrade hospital to show support for opposition activists injured in protest violence over the past few days.

When they reached the police lines, the demonstrators turned around and headed back towards the city centre. There were no reports of any serious clashes.

The BBC's Jackie Rowland: Neither side wanted confrontation
A leader of the opposition group Alliance for Change - which has been spearheading the anti-Milosevic campaign - said supporters were preparing for a whole night of protests in the city.

"They can try to arrest us all but I don't think they will dare do that," Goran Svilanovic said.

(Click here for an at-a-glance guide to the Serbian opposition)

Opposition supporters also marched in the southern city of Nis on Saturday in spite of the protest ban, Belgrade's independent Beta news agency reported.

[ image: In earlier protests, demonstrators carried an effigy of Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic]
In earlier protests, demonstrators carried an effigy of Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic
The Serbian authorities took action against the anti-government demonstrators on Friday after two nights of violent clashes between police and demonstrators.

On Saturday, the Beta news agency carried an open letter by 45 of the country's leading intellectuals saying that if the present government remained in power, the very existence of Serbian citizens came into question.

Without mentioning President Milosevic by name, their letter amounted to a demand for the end of his regime, and full support for the opposition groups.

More violence expected

Earlier this week, rallies turned violent when police in full riot gear attacked protesters, using tear gas, batons and water cannon - injuring dozens.

[ image: Protesters have denounced police action]
Protesters have denounced police action
Several opposition activists were detained.

The former chief commander of the Yugoslav Army, General Momcilo Perisic, who has joined the pro-democracy movement, warned that President Milosevic might try to use even more force to crack down on opponents.

He "will certainly try to use all means, including use of the army" against the opposition, General Perisic said.

The general said he thought a majority of the officers would not comply with possible orders to unleash force against the protesters.

There has been a concerted effort to show the strength of the opposition feeling over the past week. However the protests are nowhere near as big as the major pro-democracy rallies three years ago.

The Serbian Renewal Movement, headed by opposition veteran Vuk Draskovic, has not joined the protests so far, insisting that they could trigger civil war in Serbia.
Serbian Opposition at a Glance

(Click here to return)

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