Serb workers rally calls for Milosevic to go

By Branimir Pipal, Reuters, Monday 1 May 2000, 6:10 PM

BELGRADE (Reuters)—Thousands of Serb workers and supporters gathered in central Belgrade to back a May Day union demand for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to go.

“On this traditional workers' day, it is the moment to awaken and say a decisive ‘no’ to the regime of Slobodan Milosevic,” said Branislav Canak, the president of the non-government trade union Nezavisnost Independence), organiser of the gathering.

The protesters, estimated by eyewitnesses and independent media at around 4,000, carried flags of Nezavisnost, the Association of Independent Trade Unions (ASNS) and other opposition groups.

Nezavisnost said in a declaration the workers had allowed Milosevic to “push them into evil and hatred” and to isolate them from the rest of the world.

The West last year indicted Milosevic for war crimes in Kosovo and has said economic sanctions will remain in place against Belgrade so long as he remains in power.

“On this day, the moment has come to touch every hand that stretches out to help us, and the workers in Serbia must take responsibility for their role in the democratisation of Serbia,” Nezavisnost said.

The government-sponsored Serbian Trade Union Federation held a separate May Day gathering in Smederevo, 60 km (40 miles) southeast of Belgrade, and blasted “international power wielders” for imposing sanctions against the country.


“Economic and other sanctions we have been under for years represent a harsh and unjust collective punishment of the people,” Federation chief Tomislav Banovic was quoted by state news agency Tanjug as saying.

“This rally has the nature of protest and defiance to express dissatisfaction, indignation and revolt over what has been done for years by international power wielders to Serbia's people, citizens, workers and members of trade unions,” he said.

He called on trade union leaders across the world to urge the lifting of sanctions.

In Belgrade, a worker who came with 30 colleagues from the western Serbian city of Valjevo told independent radio B2-92: “We all have to participate in this to oust the regime of Slobodan Milosevic who has taken everything from us.”

The protesters marched to institutions they said had been “imprisoned” by Milosevic—state television, the pro-government Politika daily, the Belgrade Law School and the federal parliament.

The crowd swelled to around 4,000 and was accompanied by beating drums, the hallmark of 1996-97 protests in Belgrade which forced Milosevic to concede local election defeats.

Serbia's squabbling opposition groups gathered some 100,000 people at a joint protest in central Belgrade last month and launched a united call for general elections that would enable democratic forces to take over in Serbia.

Although it showed popular discontent ran high, the rally apparently failed to budge Milosevic.

The protesters said on Monday they did not expect the gathering to change anything right away but hoped it would trigger future changes.