CEOL - Serbian opposition calls for fresh street protests

BELGRADE, Dec 23, 1999 -- (Reuters) Serb opposition on Wednesday called for fresh street protests, only four days after halting dwindling anti-government rallies that went on for 89 consecutive nights in Belgrade.

"We will start the protest rallies again in mid January after the upcoming holidays," Vladan Batic, the coordinator of Serbia's Alliance for Change opposition grouping, told a news conference.

He said he hoped the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), the largest single opposition party, would keep its promise to stage street protests after the parliament rebuffed its demand for early elections.

"We would be glad to join in and let the SPO organize the rallies, as leadership is irrelevant in a situation like this," Batic said.

The SPO stayed away from the protests launched by the Alliance after NATO's March-to-June punishing air war against Yugoslavia for its oppression of the ethnic Albanian majority in the southern Kosovo province.

The party, led by political maverick Vuk Draskovic, insisted that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic could be ousted only through the early and fair ballot it demanded.

But Draskovic said he would call his supporters to flood the streets if the demand were ignored.

"Protest rallies are the only way to force this regime to step down; nothing else will work," Batic said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Zoran Djindjic, another Alliance leader, told Reuters that daily rallies had so far been fruitless in forcing Milosevic to accept early elections, but that street protests would continue nevertheless.

Batic said the first stage of the protests was successful - although the turnout on some nights dropped to only a few hundred in Belgrade before the rallies were halted last Saturday.

"The protests have continued elsewhere in Serbia, where turnouts were often impressive," Batic said.

But they always fell well short of the numbers desired and predicted by the Alliance's leaders, who said at least two million people must show up in Serbia for the strategy to work.

Hyperinflation Looming Large

Dragoslav Avramovic, the Alliance's candidate as transitional prime minister, said the country was on the verge of economic collapse and facing hyperinflation.

"The export revenue is negligible and the black market exchange rate has soared. This can't go on for much longer - perhaps a few more months," Avramovic said.

He said next year's budget drafted by the Serbian government, outlining a growth in production and zero inflation, was "pure fiction".

"Hyperinflation like that we had a few years ago is looming large again and threatening to destroy the economy completely," he said.

In 1992, Yugoslavia was rocked by hyperinflation which forced Milosevic to appoint Avramovic as Central Bank governor. Avramovic managed to substantially reduce the inflation.

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