Violence Used to Challenge Milosevic




BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- With his long thinning hair, faded T-shirt and jeans, Bogoljub Arsenijevic is a remnant of the flower-power generation.


The 44-year-old Serb is spearheading an unprecedented effort to topple President Slobodan Milosevic through violence.


"It's an illusion that we can get rid of him without violence," said Arsenijevic, who led about 200 followers last month in a rock-throwing charge on a government building in the town of Valjevo.


"Milosevic has left a bloody trail throughout his 10 years in power. And in blood he will leave," Arsenijevic said, speaking from a hideout where he has holed up to try to elude arrest.


Arsenijevic and his supporters were beaten back within hours of their July 12 attempt to seize control of Valjevo's Town Hall. But their action has sparked a rethinking of the peaceful, and so far unsuccessful, struggle by opposition parties to end Milosevic's rule.


Mainstream opposition parties have organized daily protest rallies throughout Serbia, drawing enthusiastic crowds that vary from several hundred to several thousand supporters.


But in at least four larger towns, informal action groups have brought thousands of angry, ordinary Serbs into the streets to voice their dissatisfaction.


The attack in Valjevo was preceded by a leaflet campaign in which Arsenijevic urged people to gather for a protest. About 10,000 showed up and, at his urging, several hundred grabbed rocks and sticks for the attack on Town Hall.


They were quickly pushed back by security forces and Arsenijevic went into hiding. But hundreds continue to gather each evening in Valjevo to protest the Milosevic regime.


In the southern town of Leskovac, demonstrations have been held for 34 consecutive days.


"For the first time, heroes of our political whirlwind are no longer charismatic party leaders but ordinary people, almost outsiders," a commentary in the respected NIN weekly said last week. Vesna Pesic, a leader of the main opposition parties' coalition, Alliance for Change, acknowledged the new phenomenon, but warned that only an "organized push" like the current peaceful protests by the mainstream opposition can unseat Milosevic.


"People have to realize that elections are the only decent way out of this," she said.


Elections are not due before 2001 and Milosevic has shown no sign of stepping down or agreeing to an early ballot as his opponents demand.


In 1996, several opposition parties joined forces and won municipal elections in nearly all Serbian cities. Milosevic annulled the results, triggering months of intense protests, which eventually forced him to concede defeat.


But the opposition later weakened because of rivalries among its leaders.


The memories of brutal police beatings of anti-Milosevic protesters, nearly three years ago, are still fresh. The worst clashes were in Belgrade.


This time, Arsenijevic mused, protests should "escalate evenly" throughout the country, "maybe all in a single day in order to stretch thin [Milosevic's] forces."


"I know this may sound like a dream, but when I called for the protest at a rally in Valjevo, many people told me it was impossible. Then thousands showed up," he said. "Rebellion in Serbia has started."


Amid a fresh round of ethnic Albanian violence against Serbs, Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova assured international leaders Friday that his party will cooperate with the United Nations as well as with rival Albanian groups.


Rugova told reporters his Democratic League of Kosovo party, known as the LDK, was prepared to work with Kosovo Liberation Army leader Hashim Thaci, who has also laid claim on leadership of the province.


Thaci has already proclaimed himself "prime minister" of a KLA-led administration but has offered to discuss giving the LDK seats in his government.