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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unpaid Teachers Join Serbia Protests

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Strikes closed more than 600 schools across Serbia on Thursday as unpaid teachers joined the republic-wide protests against the rule of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

The elementary and high school teachers are demanding back pay and an increase in salaries, which average no more than the equivalent of $150 a month.

The strike hit 178 out of 201 schools in Belgrade, sending teenage pupils out on the streets to join hundreds of protesting students marching through the capital.

The opposition and students have protested daily to demand that Milosevic recognize opposition election victories in Serbia's biggest cities on Nov. 17.

Since Tuesday, riot police have allowed protesters to march unhindered, in a possible signal that Milosevic was changing tactics in his epic confrontation with pro-democracy demonstrators.

Opposition leaders pleaded Wednesday with workers and the army to join the 10-week protest against the Serbian president, amid signs that Milosevic would offer a new proposal to end the standoff.

"We're thinking of new methods for our struggle," opposition leader Vuk Draskovic told a rally of about 30,000 people. The army and the workers "should say, 'Serbia must win.'"

While individual military officers -- most of them retired -- have joined the protests, army leaders have stressed their neutrality.

The few workers still employed in Serbia's decimated state-run industry have not yet joined the revolt. They lack organized trade unions and fear losing even their meager salaries -- the equivalent of $35 a month.

Like many workers in Serbia, teachers haven't received their salaries for two months. In other professions, the wait for paychecks has been longer.

As protesters marched through the capital, state radio reported the newest purges of Milosevic confidants -- the director of Serbia's state-run hydroelectric industry and the director of the post and telecommunications office.

Independent media claimed Thursday that the director of the electric company was fired because electricity was cut off for 40 minutes in Milosevic's house outside Belgrade on New Year's Eve as he celebrated with his family. The report could not be independently confirmed.

In past weeks, Milosevic had sacked several close supporters as he tried to maintain discipline in his Socialist party in more than two months of turmoil. The independent daily Blic claimed Thursday that the director of Serbia's state-run television, Dragoljub Milanovic, could be the next to go. He is one of the opposition's most hated enemies because of the biased TV reporting on the protests.

Reinforcing signs that Milosevic was rethinking his strategy in dealing with the demonstrators, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters the Serbian president might soon offer a new compromise. He didn't elaborate.

To reduce tensions, Milosevic accepted a finding by an international mediator, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, that the opposition had won the 14 municipalities, Ivanov said.

But the decision of how to implement OSCE's ruling "is up to Serbian authorities," Ivanov said.