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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Violence Viewed as Crux for Milosevic

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- President Slobodan Milosevic's decision to unleash his feared security forces indicates that Serbia's biggest political crisis in a decade is moving toward an end -- one way or another, diplomats said Monday.

The violent dispersal of demonstrators overnight after 76 days of peaceful anti-government protest left more than 100 people injured, raised tensions and brought Western condemnation.

"Milosevic is resorting to his favorite weapon -- violence to intimidate his rivals in the end game," a senior Western diplomat said. "This will either force his opponents to back off or make his concessions seem even bigger if they do happen."

"This could be either the beginning of a crackdown or a prelude to a balanced approach to political concessions with physical enforcement," another Western envoy said.

Serbian courts were due to decide later Monday the fate of the Belgrade city assembly and ownership of regional radio and television in the industrial city of Kragujevac.

A leader of the Zajedno, or Together, party bloc, which has been protesting election fraud by the authoritarian leftist government, said the sudden police crackdown might mean emergency rule was just around the corner.

Vesna Pesic, who police clubbed in the back and thigh, said emergency measures could preempt any legal ruling reinstating Zajedno's victory in municipal elections.

It would also override the expiration Tuesday of the current Socialist-led city council's mandate, Pesic told reporters.

But all previous legal deadlines have expired without action, sending legal maneuvers spinning out of control, and it was unclear whether any time limits would be respected by the ruling leftists who largely control the courts.

"Last night's violence shows that Milosevic does not know what to do," Zoran Djindjic, another of the three Zajedno leaders, said.

The West has lambasted the alleged election fraud and the use of force against peaceful demonstrators. Milosevic had promised he would refrain from violence.

Instead, diplomats said Milosevic has squandered all the credibility he had earned by helping secure the Dayton peace accord in November 1995 to end the war in Bosnia.

Serbia's protracted crisis has forced Western governments to reassess their policies toward Milosevic and his chiefly self-assumed role of "stabilizing factor" in the Balkans. "It is no longer a question who will replace Milosevic but what," another Western diplomat said. "He is solely to blame for the essential question the Serbs are asking themselves now: 'Do we want a dictatorship or democracy?'"

"The Serbs would find it easier to replace anyone who succeeds Milosevic. In the ensuing painful process of elimination, Serbian politicians would finally learn the meaning of the word accountability." Germany, France, Britain and the international community's High Representative for former Yugoslavia Carl Bildt quickly condemned the police repression. Paris invited the three leaders to visit in a significant policy switch.

Reliable Serbian political sources said the enduring crisis was also deepening rifts in the leftist camp comprising Milosevic's Socialist Party and his wife's neo-communist Yugoslav United Left.

"The rift between the moderates and nothing-to-lose hardliners has become a chasm," a senior political source said.

"If Milosevic wants to rule like [former Romanian dictator Nicolae] Ceauescu so be it. But he better be warned that Serbia will implode just like Romania did but much, much sooner then he would expect," he said.