Belgrade Students Rally Against Milosevic

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- About 30,000 students, chanting "USA, USA, We Want Changes,'' appealed Tuesday for Western help to prevent Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from stealing an election.

After assembling the largest crowd ever to protest Milosevic's authoritarian rule, political foes kept up the pressure in the courtrooms and the streets of the capital.

Courts controlled by Milosevic annulled results of local elections won by the opposition. The fractured opposition united, and have responded with daily protests. On Monday, more than 100,000 people turned out.

On Tuesday, foes of Milosevic appealed to Serbia's Supreme Court to reinstate the election results. The court must rule before Wednesday, when lower courts ordered voting to be repeated.

About 30,000 Belgrade University students marched through the city. More protests were scheduled in Belgrade and other cities.

When they marched past the U.S. Embassy, the students chanted "USA, USA, We Want Changes.'' They booed a cordon of heavily armed riot police deployed around the building.

One of the policemen threw away his rubber baton and lit a cigarette, in a sign of support for the demonstrators. When asked if he feared punishment from his superiors, he said: "I don't care.''

The students threw eggs at state television, a Milosevic mouthpiece. They targeted a branch office of Milosevic's Socialist Party with eggs and stones. They declared a boycott of classes at the university.

"We are only half a step away from our triumphant victory,'' said opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, urging people to turn out for the demonstrations later in the day.

Draskovic on Monday compared the growing protests to more than 40 days of demonstrations in Prague's peaceful Velvet Revolution in 1989 that brought down Communist rule. But opposition leaders also have hinted in recent days that peaceful protest might not be enough to bring down Milosevic.

The Serbian president instigated wars in Croatia and Bosnia as the old Yugoslav federation collapsed in 1991 and 1992, but later turned peacemaker. Now, the United States and its allies count on Milosevic to make Bosnia's nationalist Serbs stick to the Dayton peace agreement.

At home, Milosevic has reverted to his old ways. His wife and political ally, Mirjana Markovic, is an unapologetic neo-Communist.

Milosevic continues to control the media and has put the brakes on any market-oriented economic changes. The opposition would have little influence over Bosnian Serbs, and it was doubtful that they really had the muscle to oust Milosevic. But their activity could be a sign of more trouble building for the Serbian president.

On Monday, university students joined a week of demonstrations by others angered by rulings annulling victories in dozens of Serbian cities by the four-party opposition coalition Zajedno, or Together.

Acting on complaints by Milosevic's ruling Socialists, a court on Sunday also annulled results for the Belgrade city council, where Zajedno appeared to have won a majority.

Official results from a Nov. 17 runoff gave the opposition 60 of 110 seats in Belgrade's city council. Sunday's ruling erased 33 opposition seats.

The court also ordered a third round of voting in more than 210 polling stations in Belgrade. Opposition leaders called for a boycott of Wednesday's vote.

"People in Belgrade have a very, very good reason to be mad,'' State Department spokesman Glyn Davies said Monday in Washington.

"The United States considers totally unacceptable actions taken to annul the results of the Serbian municipal elections last week, in which the opposition won control of several important city governments, including Belgrade,'' Davies said.