CEOL - Anti-Milosevic protests to end in Belgrade

BELGRADE, Dec 19, 1999 -- (Reuters) Serbia's Alliance for Change opposition grouping, faced with dwindling turnouts as winter sets in, said on Friday it would end its "Milosevic Must Go" street protests in Belgrade after 89 consecutive days.

Saturday's rally in the capital will be the last in the series of daily demonstrations demanding the resignation of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the Alliance, one wing of a divided opposition, announced.

The campaign quickly ran out of steam after its launch on September 21. Only a few hundred people have been showing up in recent weeks, compared with 40,000 or 50,000 in the beginning.

"People are tired, people are in apathy, and people have everyday problems," said Slobodan Vuksanovic, deputy head of the Democratic party, a key Alliance member. "We have to change our tactics."

He said it was difficult to organize rallies during the cold winter months in Serbia, suggesting they may resume next year.

Alliance leaders had hoped the protests would build into a final showdown with the Serbian strongman whom the opposition blames for growing international isolation and economic hardship after a decade of Balkan wars.

Before the launch of the rallies in September, opposition leader and Democratic party head Zoran Djindjic set a target of getting two million people onto the streets, saying this was needed to show that country was ready to act for change.

An Alliance statement said Saturday's rally would "mark an end to a cycle of our activities."


"After 89 days of daily protests, the Alliance has decided to continue with its actions in a different form," it said. "We want to spend the coming religious holidays in the spirit of good Christians, modestly and at our homes."

In the winter of 1996-97, 88 days of street protests forced Milosevic to climb down over local election results.

The Alliance said protests would continue in other Serbian towns "where there are concrete reasons." It was not immediately clear what this meant for the protest campaign in other towns.

"We also keep the right to gather again in January at Republic Square in Belgrade and we expect all other opposition parties to leave their warm offices and join the whole democratic public at the place where the Alliance is fighting for a new, free and democratic Serbia," the statement added.

The other wing of the divided opposition, the Serbian Renewal Movement led by maverick politician Vuk Draskovic, has refused to join the daily rallies, describing them as a waste of time and saying they should stop.

Instead, the Serbian Renewal Movement demand early elections at all levels, seeing this as the only way to oust Milosevic.

The government says there is no need for such extraordinary polls, arguing that there is no parliamentary crisis.

Vuksanovic of the Democratic party stressed the need for the opposition to unite in its efforts to remove Milosevic.

"Unfortunately, it is more divided than united," he said.

Saying Milosevic had his share of problems with a weak economy and international isolation, Vuksanovic added:

"His position is not stronger, but we have to be stronger...The first step should be honest and sincere cooperation against Milosevic's regime."

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