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Milosevic Deploys Riot Police As Opposition Pleads for Calm

By Tracy Wilkinson
Los Angeles Times
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, declaring Serbia will not become a "proving ground for terrorism," again deployed riot police Monday to club and corral anti-government demonstrators who returned to the streets despite bloody skirmishes the night before.

Thousands of students and others were allowed to march briefly, then were blocked by police who chased and beat small groups of people hurling rocks and insults. Arrests and injuries were reported, but most in the crowds fled before the violence escalated.

Police and demonstrators appeared more restrained Monday in comparison with the night before, when opposition leaders and a U.S. Marine waving his diplomatic identification were among scores of people beaten by police.

The clashes were the most violent show of force in 78 days of generally peaceful demonstrations and appeared to be an attempt by Milosevic to reassert his challenged authority at a time the economy is in a tailspin and strikes are spreading.

But in the short term, the action may backfire by further galvanizing an opposition movement that had seemed to be losing steam. Certainly, the mood in the streets Monday was angrier than before.

"We have embarked on a very dangerous road of escalation," said Zarko Korac, a political analyst who supports the opposition. "This is like a prairie fire, spreading but slowly. It will drag on for weeks, but what is clear is Milosevic will not back down."

Demonstrators Monday screeched insults at police, calling them Ustashe, a term for Nazi-era Croatian fascists who were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Serbs in World War II.

Leaders of the Zajedno ("Together") opposition coalition - which initiated the demonstrations after Milosevic annulled Nov. 17 municipal elections that his Socialist Party lost - pleaded for calm and ordered followers not to provoke police.

"This is just the beginning of a great Gandhi-like, nonviolent resistance to brutal force," said Vuk Draskovic, president of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, backing down from an apparent appeal earlier for protesters to arm themselves in self-defense. "Complete civil disobedience is the only right answer."