...demonstrators opposed to President Slobodan Milosevic clashed with gangs of his supporters on the streets. One man was shot in the head....more than 300 thousand demonstrators crowded into Belgrade's Republic Square to protest against President Slobodan Milosevic. This was the largest pro-democracy rally so far and anger against the President soon boiled over. Shots were fired as the protestors cornered a smaller group of pro-Milosevic supporters. One man was shot in the head, several others were injured. As the clashes between the pro- and anti-Milosevic demonstrators intensified, police in riot armour tried to separate the rival groups. But the fierce battles continued to break out. This is the first violence in thirty-five days of protest since President Milosevic ignored the results of local elections. The demonstrators chanted: 'Milosevic is a traitor' and promised to keep up the pressure on the President. This evening, riot police moved in again - this time using tear gas. More violence on the streets of Belgrade and more protests planned for Christmas Day.
24th December 1996 [send 23:54]
The BBC's Paul Wood reports from Belgrade:
"Trouble seemed inevitable from the first moment the two rival crowds met head on in the centre of Belgrade. People screamed abuse at each other. But the first attacks came as opposition supporters grabbed placards from the Socialist demonstrators and they fought back. That was the signal for the riot police to turn on the opposition protesters, pushing them back down the street. Then the police waded in, batons drawn. They inflicted severe beatings on a number of opposition protesters. Scenes like these will bring more international condemnation down on the Serbian Government, already heavily criticised over the cancellation of the local election results. Next, the riot police fired volleys of tear-gas in a vain attempt to disperse the crowd of opposition protesters. In a day of violence, the most serious incident came when a man was shot in the head. Eye-witnesses said two shots came from a crowd of pro-Milosevic demonstrators. There is no independent confirmation of this allegation. The opposition claim the Socialists wanted blood-shed all along. They accuse the government of trying to precipitate civil war in Serbia by planning their rally to coincide with the opposition protest. 'Milosevic is sick in his mind', says one of the opposition leaders. 'He is pouring blood on to our streets'. The Socialists set up their podium almost within sight of the opposition. They said it was a spontaneous show of support for the government but people had been bussed in from provincial towns and factories. President Milosevic made his first appearance at a public rally in years. He pledged Serbia would not become prey to foreign influence. That could mean the government will resist any international pressure to restore the local election results.
"It's not clear if the Socialist counter demonstration is a sign of panic or of confidence on the part of President Milosevic but the Serbian leader is facing his most serious challenge of his nine-year rule and the opposition say it's not over yet."
Susan & David Stott
Media Transcription Service
Birkdale, Southport, United Kingdom
The Media Monitoring Service for Peace, Human Rights and the Environment