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Thousands Crowd Downtown Belgrade and Demand Milosevic's Resignation

Aired October 5, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: There is a crisis in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Unrest has reached a fever pitch, as opposition party members and other supporters of Mr. Kostunica have stormed the parliament building. They've taken it over. Yugoslavian state television is on fire. We'll get the latest, now, from CNN International.

Alessio Vinci is in Belgrade.


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Opposition leaders are looking for a generator as we speak.

Well, CNN's Belgrade bureau chief Alessio Vinci is in the capitol there, near the city's federal parliament building and joins us now with more -- Alessio.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN ANCHOR: Fionnuala, this time Yugoslav opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica is addressing the crowd that has gathered in front of the federal parliament there. We understand more than 100,000 people are now in the streets of Belgrade. Most of them in front of that parliament building. Mr. Kostunica was introduced by a speaker as the next president of Yugoslavia.

So, certainly, the people here in Belgrade believe that the country has been liberated. However, that might be, perhaps, a little bit premature because we have not heard from President Milosevic. We have not heard from any of the top officials here. What we know at this point is that Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition leader, is addressing the crowd from outside the federal parliament, which is under the control of the opposition forces.

Also under the control of opposition is a very important element. That is the state television, which supporters of the opposition has stormed early on. We've seen some pictures of the building on fire. Therefore, also the opposition telling us that they will be able to rebroadcast regular programming starting a couple of hours from now.

These pictures that you see now are live picture from about two hours away -- sorry 500 yards away from where Mr. Kostunica is speaking. You can see the crowd, the square in front of the federal parliament not big enough to contain the majority of the people, and what are those people doing outside here are basically listening, a broadcast of the speech of Mr. Kostunica is giving, which is being broadcast through loudspeakers here from the headquarters of some of those opposition parties.

Let's listen in.

The crowd is chanting: He is finished, he is finished, he is finished! However, the man everybody wants to hear from, Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic has, so far, failed to appear on any kind of radio or state broadcast. Of course, at this point, it would be too difficult for him to do it because state television, the national broadcaster, is in the hands of the opposition.

Back to you Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: Alessio, it has always been reported that the police and the army were critical to President Milosevic's decision and ability to remain in power. Where have they been today, and what part have they been taking? and what role have they been playing in these demonstrations?

VINCI: Fionnuala, certainly what we are seeing today, what we have seen today, all day long, and what we are seeing now, it is certainly also because the police has not intervened, has not prevented those people, first of all, to take -- from taking over the parliament, and then from taking over an important building like the state television. This means, at this point, that the security forces of President Milosevic, at this point, have taken the decision not to intervene. Whether this is a direct order from President Milosevic or this is a refusal from the security forces to participate in a crackdown, we don't know.

We don't know if an order has been issued to intervene against the crowd. What we know, is that, so far, most demonstrations that have taken place in the last few days here have gone peacefully. Police only trying to contain the crowd, not to intervene against the crowd. And therefore, perhaps, the crowd, galvanized by the fact that the opposition -- sorry -- that the security forces were not going to intervene, they really took upon themselves today to storm the parliament. And, as you can see, perhaps, from some pictures that we fed you earlier, it is clear that the security forces there only offering minimum resistance, minimum resistance.

I've covered many, many demonstrations in this country in the last few years. This is a police that has not reacted. This is a police that did not receive an order to react, or is unwilling to react, too difficult to say. Certainly, we have not seen those hundreds of riot policemen wielding their batons, chasing the crowd. So far, they only tried to contain the crowd earlier on today, and then eventually they left the building and the building then fell in the hands of the opposition.

And the same thing happened, of course, in front of the state television. We understood earlier today, that -- we understood earlier today that the -- there were some riot policemen inside the state television building and, however, as some pictures that we received earlier on today, that television station now in the hands of the opposition.

Back to you, Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: Alessio, at what point today did this peaceful demonstration by tens of thousands of supporters turn into a virtual storming of the federal parliament building?

VINCI: Well, I think it happened really fast because as the first storming happened around 3:00 -- there was an earlier attempt today that was quickly rebuffed by the police, but, later on, as the first rebuff happened, it was clearly, the people understood that clearly that the opposition, that the security forces were not going to intervene. And therefore, despite the fact there were tear gas, people using gas masks, and trying to cover themselves with handkerchiefs, did manage to enter the building, and at that point it was clear that the security forces were really not going to intervene. And that, of course, helped more people to, more people to enter -- to enter inside the building.

I just received a note here, Fionnuala, about what Mr. Kostunica is saying, and I'll try to paraphrase a few words of what he's talking about right now. He's saying, thank you for voting for me, he said. He -- Mr. Milosevic, said cannot fight the people's will. Peace between Serbia and the whole world, between Serbia and Montenegro, but there are some people who took Serbia in permanent conflict. They lost these elections and they are the ones who caused conflicts with Montenegro, who can't change the constitution, change it, and ask for new elections. Our weapon, Mr. Kostunica is telling the people at this time, is the truth. So, certainly, Mr. Kostunica appealing for calm, appealing for reconciliation not only with Montenegro, the sister republic of -- with Serbia forms Yugoslavia, but also calling for peace with the rest of the world.

What is happening here is really extraordinary. We had, earlier today, about six, seven hours ago, we had a federal parliament filled with riot policemen, and about tens of thousands of demonstrators just outside. As demonstrators stormed the building, and you can see those pictures, police quickly concede defeat, retreated to a different area, and now, seven hours later, we have Vojislav Kostunica, the man, who says, has already won the presidential election addressing the people, telling them, thank you for voting for me. We will win this battle against President Milosevic. He cannot win this fight against the people's will.

So, some really strong words from Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition leader, these live pictures just few hundred yards away from the parliament where Mr. Kostunica is addressing, now, we understand more than 100,000 supporters.

Back to you Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: Alessio, we know that you've reported that state television -- state television station is on fire. So, how is news of what is happening in Belgrade, these momentous events in Belgrade, filtering out to other parts of the country? and, indeed, do we know what is taking place in other parts of Serbia? VINCI: Fionnuala, what we heard from opposition leaders after they took over the control of the studio, of studio B and of the state television, is that they were trying work hard and trying to rebroadcast news on what is going on here throughout the country.

At this point, we have no information about what is happening throughout the country. We don't even know how many people throughout the country really about what is going on here. We know that the opposition can count on the support of about several dozen TV stations are supported by the independent journalists here and it is possible that those television stations are now rebroadcasting some pictures here from Belgrade.

But, at this time, it is too premature for us to know exactly what is going on in the rest of the country, or how many people really are -- know what is going on here. Certainly, once the opposition manages to rebroadcast footage of what is happening here in Belgrade throughout the country, it will become clear, perhaps in the next few hours or tomorrow morning, what really is going on here in Belgrade.

SWEENEY: Alessio, within the last few hours we've heard U.S. President Clinton addressing the opposition's takeover of the Yugoslav parliament, saying, and I'm quoting here, that the United States stands with people everywhere who are fighting for their freedom. And British Prime Minister Tony Blair, within the last half hour, said that President Milosevic should stand down.

How susceptible is a man like Vojislav Kostunica, the leader of the opposition, to international opinion? and, indeed, specifically, Western opinion at this time?

VINCI: Mr. Kostunica has been very critical of the opposition of -- especially of United States and, indeed, Russia. Regarding the United States, he criticized the U.S. administration, first of all, for turning this election into a Milosevic matter. Mr. Kostunica repeated all along that this is a matter of the Serbian people. And he criticized the fact the U.S. administration is repeating over and over and over again that once President Milosevic were to step down, they would have tried to take him to the Hague to face war crimes charges. Kostunica said, all along, that he would not bring Mr. Milosevic to the Hague.

As far as Russia is concerned, they criticized the fact that Russia has not come out clear in recognizing those election results, despite the fact most of the western world recognize an early victory by Vojislav Kostunica. The Russians tried to make step forward and one step backward. Still, today, even despite those dramatic events, we have not heard from President Putin any clear indication that he is willing recognize what the opposition says here is an outright victory in the first round of voting, Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: All right, CNN Belgrade bureau chief Alessio Vinci there, reporting live from the capitol of Yugoslavia, where hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have poured into the city center demanding that President Milosevic resign. Earlier, a demonstration turned into a storming of the federal parliament building. The situation is still very fast-moving and fluid. We are following it, and we will be back with you in just a minute.

Stay tuned.



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