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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serb Rally Calls For Milosevic to Resign

CACAK, Yugoslavia -- In the first public show of Serb discontent with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic since NATO bombing, 10,000 people rallied in this central Serbian town demanding his ouster.

Also Tuesday, Patriarch Pavle, Serbia's foremost religious leader, made a surprise visit to a seminary in the southern town of Prizren to persuade elderly Serbs holed up there to remain in the turbulent province despite continued looting and torching of Serbs' homes.

NATO is hoping to reign in violence against Serbs now that Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas have begun to gather at assembly points and handed in some weapons under a demilitarization deal.

The rally in Cacak, o rganized by several leading opposition parties under the banner Alliance for Change, was a first test of whether Serbia's previously fragmented opposition can exploit public discontent with Milosevic's rule to press for reforms.

"Our demand is resignation of Slobodan Milosevic," protest organizer Goran Svilanovic told the crowd as he opened the rally.

"Resignation. Resignation," chanted the crowd in a deafening response.

Discontent has grown throughout Serbia, the largest republic of Yugoslavia, since Milosevic gave in to NATO demands after 78 days of bombing and pulled Serbian troops and police out of the southern Serbian province of Kosovo. Serbs are increasingly disillusioned by the man whose policies brought on the bombing and made Serbia a pariah state.

"The whole responsibility for this misery lies on Slobodan Milosevic. He is the most responsible for the war and economic catastrophe and hunger," said former General Vuk Obradovic, another leader of the Alliance.

During his visit to Prizren, Patriarch Pavle reiterated the church's call on Milosevic to step down.

"We have made a strong appeal to him [Milosevic] to leave power in the best interest of his people and that a government of national salvation be formed," Pavle said.

About half of the 860,000 Kosovo Albanians forced to flee to neighboring countries have now returned home. Thousands more are returning every day. At least 70,000 Serbs, fearful of reprisals, have fled Kosovo.

Serb clerics were appealing to Western leaders to curb reprisal attacks by ethnic Albanians against Kosovo Serbs, warning the violence could produce an ethnically pure Kosovo f which NATO fought its air war to prevent.

Asked about damage done to monasteries and churches in Kosovo, Pavle, apparently referring to Serbian victims of ethnic Albanian revenge killings, said, "I feel the same way a family father feels when his children are killed."

In the seminary, people were asking for the patriarch's advice what to do, and he said, "Don't leave."

NATO-led peacekeepers are trying to restore order in Kosovo, but thousands of the refugees who returned to find their houses burned and neighbors murdered seem bent on revenge.

A campaign of looting and burning of Serbian homes continues in parts of the province. Serbs, who tried to force the Albanians out, now express fear Kosovo will become cleansed of Serbs and ethnically pure.

Peacekeepers hope their control over the province will be strengthened by the handover of weapons by the Kosovo Liberation Army under a June 21 demilitarization agreement.

Under the deal, KLA fighters must put their weapons into NATO-guarded storage sites and carry them only in designated assembly areas. They are also to vacate their military positions.

General Wesley Clark, the supreme NATO commander in Europe, said KLA commanders were cooperating well. But the test, he said, would be whether individual soldiers honor the handover or pursue their own vendettas.

In an interview with Albanian state television, Agim Ceku, the KLA's chief of staff, said the disarmament agreement "is a sign that the Kosovo Liberation Army has become a decisive factor in Kosovo."

The KLA plans to change into a political movement before elections for a transitional government in the province.