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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serb Leaders Concede Defeat in One Election

BELGRADE -- The Serbian opposition's witty and inventive street protests have sounded a wakeup call to Yugoslavia's aloof and immovable Socialist establishment.


And where else can you see riot police still smiling after 53 straight days on duty?


Almost eight straight weeks of antics -- from car cavalcades to concerts of pot-banging -- yielded their first fruit Wednesday when the SPS conceded partial defeat in disputed elections.


The authoritarian party led by President Slobodan Milosevic admitted they were beaten by the opposition Zajedno, or Together, coalition in Serbia's second largest city, Nis.


That was where the protest movement erupted Nov. 19 in outrage at the SPS's annulment of Zajedno's upset election victories in 15 of the 18 biggest cities, including the Serbian capital Belgrade.


Since then, a motley alliance of democrats, monarchists, nationalists, irreverent students, disgruntled jobless and neighborhood mavericks have rattled the establishment with their ingenuity, strict non-violence and, not least, endurance.


They have also charmed Western governments pressing for democratization in Yugoslavia.


Some protest chieftains have been invited to attend the inauguration ceremony of U.S. President Bill Clinton on Jan. 20.


There have been only two notable spasms of violence in the protest marathon, both of them precipitated by club-wielding thugs recruited by neo-communist hardliners in the government.


Otherwise, the mood has usually swung between restrained tension -- insults hurled at unyielding police cordons -- and comic street theater, with protesters kissing policemen and playing cat-and-mouse to outwit a ban on marches.


Police have only intermittently enforced the prohibition against marching and some officers have been unable to suppress grins at the protesters' play-acting, even while chasing them down the street.


Some police have whistled back -- at pretty women in the crowds.


The demonstrators' main weapons have been whistles, pots, pans and drums, which they use to create a vast public din.


Alarm clocks were added on New Year's Eve to ring at the stroke of midnight as if time were running out for Milosevic.


A few thousand protesters in the provincial town of Sabac set a record with 32 minutes of uninterrupted whistling after Milosevic was mentioned in a speech, local media reported.


Last Sunday, Zajedno drove thousands of balloon-draped, honking cars into central Belgrade at snail's pace and stopped.


Cars were hoisted on jacks and hoods raised. One grizzled old man playfully examined his car with a stethoscope.


"For 20 years I had this feeling that I'd break down today right in this spot," one would-be driver said with a wink.


Car alarms wailed, as if the Socialists had been caught red-handed in election fraud.


Protesters quipped that the breakdowns were inevitable because the state was selling diluted petrol and the people were so impoverished by Socialist misrule that they could not afford to replace their ramshackle old cars.