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Yugoslav Opposition Supporters Storm Parliament Building; Fmr. Prime Minister Panic Discusses Threat of 'Civil War'

Aired October 5, 2000 - 12:17 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Throughout the morning, we've been following the dramatic development unfolding on the streets of Belgrade, where demonstrators have stormed the federal parliament building.

Joining us now for some insight is the former prime minister of Yugoslavia, Milan Panic. He joins us on the telephone from Colorado.

Mr. Panic, thank you so much for joining us. Give us your assessment. What is going on right now as far as you can tell?

MILAN PANIC, FMR. YUGOSLAV PRIME MINISTER: I believe that anticipated things happened. Milosevic is not going to recognize these elections and we are starting to have a civil unrest which, in my view, will turn into civil war if we immediately don't find a way to expel Milosevic from Yugoslavia, or get him out. My proposal is Mr. Clinton and Mr. Putin should organize that. It is in the name of the human rights of Serbs, because if they don't do that, I am certain there will be a civil war.

BLITZER: You know President Milosevic. You know what his character is like, what he's up against. Do you think that it is possible that that kind of international coalition could convince him to step down?

PANIC: Yes, I am certain of that because I think the problem is not convincing him, the problem is giving him a way out. I think with the position the State Department has today of, we cannot take him out, we need to take him to Hague, is wrong. I think that moral issue should be left for tomorrow. And today, we should find a practical way to stop bloodshed of Serbia. Serbs have paid a dear price for tolerance of the international community of Milosevic. Today, the time is to take steps to take him out.

BLITZER: So what you're proposing is safe haven for President Milosevic. But as you pointed out, he is an indicted war criminal. How is that going to be reconciled?

PANIC: That can be reconciled tomorrow. Today, we have to stop the possibility of civil war which could really kill thousands of people. And I think the issue of war crimes should be put aside today. We want to stop civil war. Only way, in my view, to stop that, the United States and Russia, or Mr. Putin and Mr. Clinton together get Milosevic out. He's ready to go out, we should just give him a way out. If we don't, there will be a bloodshed.

BLITZER: All right, Milan Panic, the former prime minister of Yugoslavia, thank you so much for joining us.

Let's go back now to our Belgrade bureau chief, Alessio Vinci, who's standing by with the latest -- Alessio.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN BELGRADE BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Wolf, what we know, the latest has been announced by the loudspeakers here of the opposition. They are saying that the Studio B, the Belgrade television station that was taken over by President Milosevic's forces a few months ago, back in May, is now back in the control of independent journalists, and they've just announced that, from now on, Studio B will be able to report what is happening here in the city. Certainly this will be a great way for the opposition to communicate what is going on here in the city since state television has so far refrained from reporting any of what is going on here.

They just earlier today, during the first clashes between protesters and demonstrators, they issued a quick statement saying that there were some hooligans in the street trying to create chaos. Since then, we have not seen a single bulletin, news bulletin, from state television, a very unusual move by state television at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Alessio, and there has been no indication where President Milosevic is, no reaction from him, no direct comments from him on any of the state-run media?

VINCI: Absolutely not, Wolf. Total silence from not just President Milosevic, but also from all other state leaders here, neither from the Serbian president or the prime minister. Nobody here is commenting on anything. State television is just broadcasting a concert right now, so there is no indication whatsoever that the majority of people outside of Belgrade know what is going on here in Belgrade.

Those pictures that you see now of those demonstrations occurred about three hours ago. The situation now outside the federal parliament is back to quiet. We understand that the majority of the more than 100,000 people who are gathered now in downtown Belgrade have reconvened in front of the federal parliament, which is now under control of the opposition. The leader -- opposition leader, Vojislav Kostunica, we understand now, wants to give a speech to the crowd. They are looking for a generator because the power was cut off inside the parliament building, and therefore they are waiting to set up a system here so the majority of the people can listen to what Mr. Kostunica has to say.

Mr. Kostunica, who has all along tried to convince opposition supporters to keep these demonstrations calm, when the first line of demonstrators broke through the cordon of policemen, entering and trying to storm the parliament building, you could hear loudspeakers, opposition leaders calling for, appealing for calm, appealing for peace. However, the more determined group of those demonstrators managed to enter the building and eventually chased out the hundreds of riot policemen who were there, police who have, again, shown really restraint and so far have not decided to intervene. Many have been moderate here. They only used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

And at this point, the federal parliament and downtown Belgrade, at least in front of the federal parliament and here in front of our bureau about 500 yards away, it is totally under the control of the opposition. There is no police, no army, any kind of security forces in sight.

BLITZER: And how do you explain that, Alessio, this restraint -- some would say, as you point out, remarkable restraint by the police? We've seen the use of tear gas, but there's been no, as far as we can tell -- and maybe you can correct us if we're wrong -- no live fire has been used against any of these demonstrators.

VINCI: Absolutely not, Wolf. It is really remarkable. We have seen an indication of that already yesterday when miners at the Kolubara Coal Mine managed to break through police cordon without encountering any stiff resistance. And perhaps the demonstrators today, mindful of what happened yesterday at the Kolubara Mine, decided to do exactly the same thing. They noticed right away the police was unwilling, first of all, to react harshly, or perhaps they didn't have the order.

You know, Mr. Milosevic here has basically lost the first round of election and people know here because the Federal Election Commission has announced that, state television has announced that the first round of voting, Yugoslav President Milosevic received less votes, 10 percent less votes than the opposition leader, Kostunica. Therefore, people here know that Mr. Milosevic is no longer the most popular politician in this country.

And so it is possible that President Milosevic doesn't want, at this point, to test the faith of those security services because it could have happened that -- if the order could have come down to crack down harsher on those demonstrators, it could have happened that police would have not responded at all. In that case, it could have turned really for the worse for President Milosevic and his entourage.

BLITZER: All right, Alessio. We'll be standing by awaiting those remarks from the opposition leader. Thanks again for joining us. I know you have a, obviously, a very busy day.

Let's get some reaction now from the White House. Our White House correspondent Major Garrett is standing by.

I take it, Major, the president just spoke about the situation in Belgrade.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the president and his senior national security adviser, Samuel Berger, monitoring the situation all day, both on CNN and through intelligence reports received here at the White House.

The president made his first public comments about the dramatic developments in Belgrade today, saying first and foremost the U.S. stands with those who seek democracy. He also said, if the world community stands with those in the opposition, stands for human rights, stands for democracy, that inevitably Milosevic will fall.

He also made an oblique reference, Wolf, to the conversation you just had a few moments ago with Mr. Panic about whether or not there would be any effort to take or expedite Milosevic's removal from Belgrade or from Serbia. And what he said, he said, obviously he, meaning Mr. Kostunica, the leader of the opposition forces, has some differences with us. Mr. Kostunica has been very clear throughout his campaign that he doesn't agree that Mr. Milosevic should be subjected to war crimes trials at The Hague and would not support that if he did become the new leader of Yugoslavia. The president noted that in his remarks.

He was also asked whether or not, if Yugoslav forces act militarily against the opposition, whether the U.S. would intervene militarily.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't believe that it's an appropriate case for military intervention, and I don't believe that the United States should say or do anything which would only strengthen Mr. Milosevic's hand. The people of Serbia have made their opinion clear. They did it when they vote peacefully and quietly, and now they're doing it in the streets because people tried to talk -- there's been an attempt to rob them of their vote.

And I think if the world community will just stand with -- stand for freedom, stand for democracy, stand for the will of the people, I think that will prevail. It did all over Eastern Europe. We've had a peaceful transition, democratic transition with an election in Russia. The world is moving towards freedom and democracy and the United States should support those forces, and we will do so strongly.


GARRETT: Generally speaking, the administration has been very encouraged by the developments within Serbia, especially in Belgrade today, seeing that the opposition is moving in a grassroots way. The national security spokesman P.J. Crowley said this morning, there are no direct U.S. government contacts with the opposition forces within Yugoslavia. And all along, the United States has said the election was fraudulent, that there was an attempt by Mr. Milosevic to take or rob the will of the people in Yugoslavia of the election that they had, and they wanted the opposition to create a grassroots movement by themselves without any outside interference or aid to try to bring Mr. Milosevic down. Generally speaking, the administration is satisfied and encouraged by what it's sees happening in Belgrade -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Major Garrett at the White House, thanks and stand by.

Meanwhile, only moments ago, the Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush, spoke out in Michigan on the situation in Yugoslavia. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Before I talk about education and what Laura and I are talking about this week, I want to say one thing. Recently received some news that the people of Yugoslav Republic took over their parliament. Frustration by the fact that their leader who was voted out of office won't leave, they took matters in their own hands. It is clear they have spoken, the people have spoken. It is time for Mr. Milosevic to go.


BLITZER: All these dramatic developments unfolding on the streets of Belgrade come only hours before the vice presidential debate tonight in Kentucky.



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