Serb opposition figure says changes may need force

PANCEVO, Yugoslavia, Nov 9, 2000 -- (Reuters) Momcilo Perisic, Yugoslavia's former army chief and now a prominent opposition figure, warned on Sunday that force might have to be used to achieve democratic change.

"If we do not gain changes by democratic means I fear we will have to gain them by force and that would be the greatest misfortune that our enemies wish for," he told several hundred people gathered in opposition-run Pancevo in northern Serbia.

Perisic, who now heads the tiny Movement for Democratic Serbia (PDS), was speaking during an opposition campaign tour across the main Yugoslav republic ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for September 24.

He departed from the mainstream opposition position when he mentioned the possible use of force, but did not explain what form this might take.

Opposition leaders have avoided mentioning any possible use of force which many fear might follow the elections since the government has stepped up accusations that the opposition are "terrorists" working on behalf of NATO powers.

Perisic was fired by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 1998 after he publicly warned him against courting confrontation with NATO during the Kosovo crisis.

He was stripped of his rank of reserve colonel-general this year for "damaging the army's reputation".

In July, Milosevic called Yugoslav parliamentary and presidential elections in an apparent bid to extend his grip on power for years to come. Local elections in Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, are also due on September 24.

The main opposition presidential candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, enjoys a wide lead in opinion polls in the race for the presidency ahead of Milosevic. But Milosevic's foes fear that he will claim victory even if he were to lose the election.

Leaders of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) bloc planned to visit Smederevo and Pozarevac on Sunday, the fourth day of their campaign trail to 50 Serbian towns.

DOS, which groups 18 political parties and one trade union, said they had received permission from local authorities to hold a pre-election rally in Pozarevac, where Milosevic was born in 1941.

But they were told that no incidents would be tolerated. All posters announcing the rally have been systematically torn down and people were informed of the opposition's arrival only by leaflets.

Pozarevac, a town of roughly 70,000 people, is a stronghold of the Yugoslav president's ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). Milosevic's powerful son, Marko, owns an amusement park and discotheque in Pozarevac.

In May, the opposition cancelled an anti-government rally in Pozarevac at short notice after police blocked roads to the town and detained activists and independent journalists.

Original article