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Steadfast Serbian Demonstrators Use New Tactics Against Milosevic

By Tracy Wilkinson
Los Angeles Times
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia

Frustrated by their failure to extract significant concessions from Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic despite seven weeks of street protest, opposition leaders Tuesday plotted new in-your-face tactics aimed at pressing their demands for electoral justice.

From announcing plans to file criminal charges against officials to urging the deliberate swamping of government switchboards, the opposition is struggling both to sustain its own momentum and to crack Milosevic's stubborn refusal to cede power.

Students, activists, pensioners, and middle-class families have been rallying in Belgrade and other cities for the last 51 days to protest Milosevic's decision to annul municipal elections won by the opposition on Nov. 17.

The demonstrations pose the greatest challenge ever to Milosevic's nearly decade-old authoritarian rule. Opposition activists have won approval, overt or tacit, from the Serbian Orthodox Church and other state institutions.

But the Serbs who really count, like the police, apparently remain loyal to the president of the country, which with Montenegro makes up the rump Yugoslavia.

"We want to break down the state institutions, piece by piece," said Slobodan Vuksanovic, spokesman for the opposition coalition known as Zajedno (Together).

Zajedno officials said Tuesday they have identified men in civilian dress who, working alongside police, beat demonstrators and left more than 30 people, including a child and numerous foreign television cameramen, injured.

Zajedno said it would file criminal charges against Interior Minister Zoran Sokolovic and his deputy, Radovan Stojicic, who is said to be close to Milosevic's powerful wife, Mirjana Markovic.

The two officials stand accused of ordering the beatings. While citizens, under Yugoslav law, may file criminal charges, the likelihood a case would prosper in Milosevic-controlled courts is minimal.

Also Tuesday, opposition leaders said that they will mount a new challenge to riot police blocking protest marches. Demonstrators will attempt to surround the police, strike up conversations, and present them with letters.