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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Belgrade Police Turn Marchers Loose

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Serbian opposition demonstrators revelled in the streets of Belgrade on Friday after riot police abandoned their cordons, and the European Union warned President Slobodan Milosevic to embrace democracy or languish in isolation.


Thousands ran with abandon through the streets of Belgrade before dawn after students persuaded police to dismantle their cordons.


The students outlasted police in a 12-hour standoff on the 53rd straight day of mass demonstrations throughout Serbia against the Milosevic government's annulment of municipal election victories by the Zajedno, or Together, coalition.


Students had vowed to stand in front of police lines until they were allowed to march. After the police lines dissolved, demonstrators roamed city boulevards, singing and dancing despite the overnight mid-winter cold.


"This is a great thing happening tonight. It's our chance to change the future, and we'll do it," said one woman.


Milosevic on Wednesday conceded the opposition Zajedno coalition had won in Serbia's second city Nis, one of 14 municipalities including the capital, Belgrade, which are in dispute.


But Zajedno leaders vowed continued protests until all their demands were met. They urged Belgraders to drive into the city center Friday to create a "traffic collapse," as they did last Sunday.


In a statement released Thursday night, the EU urged Milosevic to accept all Zajedno's poll victories as verified by a fact-finding delegation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that visited Belgrade last month.


"The Union ... calls on the authorities ... and in particular President Milosevic to fully accept the conclusions and recommendations [of the OSCE report] and act on them without delay," the statement said.


Federal Yugoslavia, which is composed of only Serbia and tiny Montenegro, has been isolated internationally since 1992 when diplomatic and economic sanctions were imposed to punish Serbia for fomenting the war in Bosnia.


The United Nations rescinded most of the sanctions in late 1995 after Milosevic persuaded the Bosnian Serbs, his former nationalist proxies in Bosnia, to sign the Dayton peace treaty.


But an "outer wall" of sanctions left in place by Western governments has prevented a full resumption of political and commercial ties with Yugoslavia.


Belgrade has still not been readmitted to the United Nations or key financial institutions like the World Bank, blocking major credits and investment desperately needed by Yugoslavia to rebuild its wrecked economy.


The United States said on Thursday Milosevic's recognition of Zajedno's victory in Nis did not go far enough and he could not win world applause by "dribbling out minor concessions."