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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Milosevic: No Rule by 'Foreign Hand'

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- President Slobodan Milosevic warned student protesters on Tuesday against fomenting foreign interference in Serbia while an opposition leader claimed the United States was ready to see him out of power.

He met three students from Nis University as members of the independent trade union Nezavisnost led another huge Belgrade demonstration against fraud by the ruling socialists in local elections on Nov. 17.

Tanjug news agency said Milosevic, who has been heavily criticized by the West, told the students their protest against election rigging would be investigated, but added:

"We must be completely clear, however much your leaders go to embassies and send envoys and travel to world capitals. A foreign hand shall not rule Serbia. We are our own masters in Serbia and must resolve our [own] problems."

He ordered the justice ministry to investigate documents which the students said proved election rigging.

Leaders of the Zajedno, or Together, opposition, which has coordinated a month of protests to demand Milosevic's ouster, have received open encouragement from senior U.S. officials in Washington and Geneva.

Miroljub Labus, a vice president of the Democratic party which is a Zajedno partner, said after talks in Washington that he was told the United States no longer needed Milosevic to make peace in Bosnia and was ready to see him removed.

Labus, who met State Department officials and congressmen, told Reuters: "My feeling is they have reached a decision he has got to go."

The United States has led Western attacks on effective one-party rule in Serbia and demanded that Milosevic accept defeat in Belgrade and other towns. But it has not said publicly that he should quit.

He has been seen as crucial to the success of the year-old peace agreement in Bosnia which he helped to craft and forced the Bosnian Serbs to sign.

More than 100,000 opposition supporters joined Tuesday's march in central Belgrade and jeered socialist mayor Nebojsa Covic when he appeared on a balcony at city hall.

Zajedno reported that several thousand factory workers joined protests in Nis to dissociate themselves from their director's pledge of support for Milosevic on state television.

Courts in Nis and Smederevska Palanka have ordered the socialists to turn control of both towns over to Zajedno in an endorsement of its claims.

In a sign that Milosevic might give way in Belgrade, the main prize for the opposition, Zajedno said the Serbian supreme court had upheld its victory in the Savski Venac municipality.

The government has scrapped a plan to end paid "compulsory leave" in state industries from Jan. 1 in a move which could have made 800,000 workers unemployed.

Western diplomats said it feared that ending compulsory leave as a way to reduce state spending would have caused an explosion of anger among workers and spurred them on to the streets in their turn.

Compulsory leave, under which workers were paid up to 60 percent of their wages, was introduced during 3 1/2 years of U.N. economic sanctions against Yugoslavia which mothballed most of its industry.