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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Milosevic Plays Down Protests

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The biggest rally against Slobodan Milosevic in years was denounced Friday by media loyal to the Yugoslav president as a "failure," which served as a "disappointment'' to alleged pro-NATO organizers.

"Failed pro-NATO rally," ran a headline in the government-run Politika daily, tucked away in the paper's midsection - a sign that state-run media were attempting to downplay Thursday's anti-Milosevic protest, which drew 150,000 people. Politika said only 25,000 attended.

"One can't tell who is more disappointed, the organizers, the participants or the NATO bosses and mentors,'' state television said late Thursday.

Chanting "resignation'' and "leave Slobo, leave,'' the crowd - the largest to attend an anti-Milosevic rally in two years - roared in approval every time the opposition speakers called for his removal. A key opposition figure who turned up to propose a compromise with the government was jeered by the masses in front of the parliament building in Belgrade.

The rally, a key test of the opposition's ability to challenge Milosevic and a measure of popular support for the pro-democracy political leaders, was also an admonition to bickering oppositional leaders to get their act together.

"There is no time for what they are doing - quarreling,'' opposition figure Mladjan Dinkic said Friday. "The people will no longer wait or tolerate that ... the citizens can no longer be lied to and this is truly the last chance for all.''

Students scheduled a mock celebration of Milosevic's birthday for later Friday. The Resistance, as the student group calls itself, said the party would be like any other - cake, a present and good wishes included. The group also said it would try to take the cake up to Milosevic's well-guarded house in the exclusive Dedinje district.

At the Thursday rally, the opposition gave Milosevic a two-week deadline to resign or face daily protests in major Serbian cities. As he announced the deadline, former Belgrade Mayor Zoran Djindjic received thundering ovations from the crowd.

"Milosevic, look at this square. This is Serbia that doesn't want you,'' Djindjic declared. "Look at this square and go, before we come to remove you! This time we'll go all the way. It's either him or us,'' Djindjic said. "It is now or never.''

Attempting to extend his tenure before he loses all chance for re-election, Milosevic's Socialist party said earlier this week that Milosevic could call early elections - in November instead of the scheduled 2001 date.

Djindjic, and other opposition leaders in the Alliance for Change, reject the idea of early elections while Milosevic is in power. Milosevic controls the state-run media and all levers of power in the country. The opposition fears Milosevic would rig any election.

Vuk Draskovic, a bitter Djindjic rival who once led the most powerful anti-Milosevic protests in Belgrade but later served as his deputy prime minister, was booed when he proposed early elections as the way out of the current political deadlock.

"Treason, treason,'' the angry demonstrators shouted as Draskovic tried to finish his speech. As he left the gathering, surrounded by his bodyguards, some of the demonstrators threw old newspapers at him.