Students in Belgrade Rally Despite Threat

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Some 20,000 students led by girls carrying flowers demonstrated against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade on Monday in defiance of a government threat to crack down on two weeks of street unrest.

Chanting protesters, blowing trumpets and waving football rattles, jeered at knots of police who watched as the march weaved through central Belgrade gathering support despite a snow storm.

"They teach us to think for ourselves at university but now Slobo and his mates expect us to switch off our brains when they speak," a philosophy student said. "Only a 5-year-old would be fooled by this."

The size of the turnout indicated that a warning from the socialist government Sunday that police were running out of patience with daily demonstrations had failed to cool dissent.

Britain reflected international dismay over Milosevic's handling of a crisis that sprang from his rigging of local election results last month, by urging restraint.

"We call on the Serbian authorities to respect the democratic right of peaceful demonstration without qualification," a Foreign Office statement said in London.

With no sign of the protests flagging, political sources said the government was desperately seeking a way out of the dispute that would enable it to save face.

It cancelled a session of the Serbian parliament due on Tuesday when the Zajedno, or Together, coalition of opposition parties was due to demand that the disputed elections be set aside.

Zajedno threatened to start a boycott of parliament if the results were allowed to stand, robbing it of victories it claimed in Belgrade and other cities.

Although the police presence was unobtrusive again on Monday, Milosevic has mobilized large reserves of security forces in readiness.

The rolling protests, attracting up to 100,000 people, are demanding Milosevic's removal in the longest sustained challenge he has faced in nine years of power.

Vuk Draskovic, a leader of Zajedno, urged opposition followers in a radio broadcast to avoid violence and added:

"Milosevic has played his last card with the announcement that the police will forbid Belgraders to walk in their town in protest against the election theft and state terrorism."

Student organizers vowed not to be intimidated and said in a statement:

"The authorities claim we are just a few manipulated students and provocateurs. What serious state would put on alert the repressive machinery of 100,000 police against a small group of young rebels."

Milosevic, rarely seen in public, has stayed out of sight during the protests and held back his police in contrast with tough measures to quell previous unrest against his rule.

He used tanks to smash demonstrations in 1991 and riot police were deployed quickly in the past to counter any whiff of trouble.

Zajedno and student leaders have stopped the stoning of state television and newspaper buildings that marred earlier protests in order to deprive police of any excuse to intervene.