Court Rejects New Vote for Serbia

BELGRADE -- A court Wednesday rejected demands for new elections by Serbian opposition parties who are waging street protests against President Slobodan Milosevic after accusing his ruling socialists of vote-rigging.


The Democratic Party, a member of the Zajedno (Together) coalition, said Belgrade's first municipal court rejected the opposition's claim that the socialists defrauded it of victory in the capital during local elections last month,


The ruling closed off a possible compromise between Milosevic and Zajedno and heightened fears of imminent police intervention as more than 100,000 students and opposition supporters staged a 17th day of demonstrations.


A verdict in Zajedno's favor would have allowed both sides to fight a deciding round of elections and reduced growing Western pressure on Milosevic.


The court said there could be no appeal against its decision, and Zajedno legal expert Mirko Mihajlovic acknowledged, "Not much more is to be expected from the regular legal procedure."


The socialists, whose rule in Yugoslavia has been unbroken since World War II, overturned Zajedno victories in the Nov. 17 elections and claimed they won a re-run of the ballot.


Former Yugoslav foreign minister Ilija Djukic, now in opposition, warned time was running out for a peaceful end to the sternest challenge Milosevic has faced since he took power nine years ago.


Protesting students added the closure of Belgrade's independent B-92 radio station -- halted from live coverage of their demonstrations -- to their grievances as they marched.


The students, chanting support for Radio B-92, were led by girls carrying loaves of bread, which in Serbia represent a symbol of brotherhood, but were unsuccessful in their attempt to hand them in to parliament.


Djukic, a Democratic Party leader who has joined in the marches, said the opposition feared that shutting down B-92's transmitter Tuesday could be a prelude to the use of force for the first time in the conflict.


B-92's reports on the demonstrations, which have attracted up to 100,000 people a day, has contrasted with the silence of the state media, which has concentrated on attacking the opposition.


"These are critical days because the time for a reasonable solution is running out," Djukic said. "The most tragic thing is that this situation could lead us into open repression."


The demonstrations began as an attempt to overturn the election results but have grown into an attempt to topple Milosevic and his one-party rule in Yugoslavia.


The United States condemned the closure of B-92 as "a transparent effort to keep the Serbian public in the dark. It demonstrates the fundamental lack of respect, lack of regard the Serbian government has for democratic principles."


In response to the closure, the U.S. government's Voice of America will broadcast reports from the radio's correspondents into Serbia starting Wednesday, VOA said. The U.S. broadcaster said in a statement it was expanding its medium- and short-wave Serbian-language transmissions from 2 to 2 1/2 hours daily to include reports by B-92 journalists and interviews with them.


The move would "provide a special daily window of events to the people of Serbia in their own language," said VOA South European Division Chief Frank Shkreli.