By Michael Roddy
BELGRADE (Jan. 26) - Tempers wore thin during a 10th week of anti-government street demonstrations in Serbia and riot police beat up three pro-democracy protesters in Belgrade, bloodying one man's head, witnesses said.
They said police assaulted protesters who had lain down in the street on Saturday night during one of several rallies in the capital by people demonstrating against election fraud.
One man's head was covered with blood, another had a bloody nose and a third was beaten on the back, the witnesses said.
Neda Nikolic, a member of the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists, told independent Radio B-92 that she was among a crowd of about 4,000 protesters prevented by a police cordon from linking up with a student rally.
''Two police jeeps suddenly arrived and the dogs (police) rushed out of them, carrying sticks instead of batons. They started to beat up children, old ladies, anyone they could reach,'' Nikolic said.
''...I saw four of them beating a 15- or 16-year-old youth. He fainted and they carried him away.''
The assault came as tempers frayed on the 70th day of demonstrations across Serbia to force the ruling Socialists to accept that the opposition Zajedno (Together) coalition won control of 14 towns and cities in local elections last November.
It followed a clash in the central city of Kragujevac on Thursday in which riot police clubbed protesters seated on a highway, beating one member of parliament unconscious.
Several thousand students rallied into an eighth day in the centre of Belgrade, where a 24-hour-a-day police cordon has blocked them from marching around the city.
Zajedno leaders said President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists were becoming more intransigent and were preparing to enlist the help of hardline Serb nationalists to thwart the street demonstrations.
''Unless we stop him, he'll 'unify' Serbia in the way he 'unified' Yugoslavia,'' Vuk Draskovic, a Zajedno leader, told a rally in Belgrade, referring to the wars that accompanied the breakup of the old Yugoslav federation.
Draskovic's comments coincided with reports that the Socialists had turned to the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party to try to shore up its damaged position.
Milosevic, widely blamed for plunging former Yugoslavia into war in 1991, has accused Zajedno of plotting to destabilise Serbia with its daily street protests.
Zajedno says it will not stop the demonstrations until its election victories, annuled by the government, are confirmed. It has backing from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe which says the victories were legitimate.
Draskovic told reporters that Milosevic's associates must be starting to wonder if the disruption caused by the protests was worth the cost.
''After a while, even those around Milosevic will begin to calculate whether it pays to stay with him,'' he said. ''This can last 10 days, 20 days, a month or two, but he is walking down that blind alley.''
Serbia's economy, hit by four years of sanctions during the Bosnia conflict and still largely state-managed, was in collapse even before the street demonstrations started.
Many workers are on compulsory leave from their jobs and have not joined the protests, but demonstrators say sympathy for the opposition is strong among blue collar workers.
''Workers cannot organise themselves because mainly they are not at work and many of them are living in the suburbs,'' said Mihaj, a 44-year-old electrician at the Zajedno rally.
''Those who are working are afraid to come becaue they get some money after all...but I am here because something has to change.''
Thanks to Bob Djurdjevic for sending this transcript