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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbia Deters Opposition Rally

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Organizers of a major rally against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic accused police Thursday of trying to intimidate their supporters by warning people to stay away because of possible trouble.

The first anti-Milosevic rally in the capital of Belgrade in years was due to start in front of the downtown Yugoslav parliament building at 7 p.m.

But the opposition has been fragmented for years, and despite widespread resentment to Milosevic's leadership, his critics are by no means united.

In an apparent attempt to keep people away, Belgrade police said Wednesday they arrested a man with a "highly explosive device" and warned of possible bombings at "massive public gatherings."

The police statement was prominently read several times during main state-run TV news, with an additional warning to parents to keep their children inside during the planned rally.

"The regime is trying to frighten the citizens and to transfer it's own fear of the opposition to the people," Liljana Lucic, Democratic Party deputy president, said. She expressed hope that the police statement won't prevent the crowd from attending, saying, "the people have developed immunity to fear."

Several opposition parties organizing the rally, the first since the 78-day NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, which ended in June, said they had not been issued police permission for holding the rally by noon Thursday.

Zika Andjelkovic, one of the organizers, told independent B2-92 radio that he expected the authorities would cut electricity off during the gathering.

Student anti-government organization Resistance announced its separate protest ahead of the opposition rally. The students plan to build a symbolic wall in front of the Yugoslav parliament building, "with every brick representing one victim of Milosevic's regime."

The authorities have launched a massive campaign against the rally, claiming it is intended to celebrate U.S. President Bill Clinton's birthday and to supportNATO "occupation" of Yugoslavia.

Some key opposition figures have announced they will not attend. The Alliance of Democratic Parties, a coalition of several small parties including ethnic Hungarians from northern Serbia, backed out of the rally Thursday, citing unspecified "organizational differences."

Vesna Pesic of the Serbian Civic Alliance fled to the pro-Western Yugoslav republic Montenegro after authorities accused her of calling for violence at an anti-government rally last week.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic, the most charismatic speaker in the opposition, said he would not attend but would send a representative to spell out demands for Milosevic's resignation and immediate elections under international supervision.

Anti-Milosevic protests began in Serbia after the NATO air campaign left the country badly damaged, impoverished, isolated and without control over the southern province of Kosovo. The campaign was launched to force Milosevic to accept a peace plan for the separatist Kosovo province.

In an apparent attempt to defuse tensions that have threatened Milosevic's autocratic rule, his Socialist Party offered Wednesday to hold early elections.

"We believe that there are more important things on the nation's agenda than the elections, but if the opposition wants that, so be it," said Ivica Dacic, a spokesman for the Socialists. "We are ready."