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Demonstrators Take Over Parliament, Calling On Milosevic to Step Down

Aired October 5, 2000 - 4:02 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have taken over the parliament and other major institutions in Yugoslavia, a dramatic day today involving the president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic and his future. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have taken over the parliament and other major institutions in Yugoslavia, a dramatic day today involving the president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic and his future.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"STREET SWEEP" will not be seen today on CNN. It can be seen on CNNfn.

Joining us from London to try to shed some light on this crisis in Yugoslavia is the former State Department spokesman James Rubin. He's also the husband of CNN's senior international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

Mr. Rubin, of course, welcome back to CNN. You were intimately involved in so many of these episodes involving Yugoslavia and Slobodan Milosevic. Give us your sense right now. Are these the final days of Mr. Milosevic in power?

JAMES RUBIN, FMR. STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: Well, having watch the security forces, and the police and the military be unwilling to confront the opposition on the streets of Belgrade, it may well be that the Milosevic era is coming to an end before our very eyes. Having watched 10 long years of the damage done by this man to his own people, to the people of Bosnia, Croatia, to the terrible tragedy in Kosovo that the United States and NATO responded to, I guess I could say that most of the world is holding its breath, hoping and praying that what they're seeing before them really is the end of the Milosevic era.

BLITZER: He's been pretty resilient, though, in the past, though, I really must say, we've never seen these kinds of upheavals on the streets of Belgrade.

RUBIN: Well, over the last few days, I kind of been watching this with a sense that maybe he had some plan to pull it out. But seeing today that the security services were unwilling to confront the opposition on the street, seeing the opposition take over one of his critical organs of power, which is the television and radio stations, seeing the Tangib (ph), the official Yugoslav news agency, began to report Kostunica as the president, and seeing the parliament building taken over by these protesters, it really has a deja vu from the days of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

The only question it seems to me is which of the three following scenarios do we face? Is it a tsiachesku (ph) scenario, where the people are so angry and so infuriated that they bring on the death of Milosevic and his wife, or is it some Yugoslav special negotiated scenario, where Milosevic tries to negotiate some exit, or finally, and the most horrible, will he go down in flames and try to find a thousand or 2,000 police that will shoot at the protesters, and that's what we don't know what will happen in the next 24, 48 hours.

BLITZER: Mr. Rubin, we have to interrupt because the president is now speaking specifically about the situation at Princeton University.

Let's listen in.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have made the world, I believe, more safe against force and selfish aggression, but we know, like Roosevelt and Wilson before us, that no peace is lasting unless it is backed by the consistent, dedicated leadership of nations that have the wealth, size and power to do the right thing.

Here in America and in more and more nations around the world, progressive parties are in power.

Every now and then we all get together and have dinner and try to help each other, and we try to figure out how to keep this going, how to keep up the fight for reform, for justice, for opportunity for all, for freedom.

I believe that the continuation of this legacy in our time depends, as much as anything else, on whether we actually believe in our common humanity and the primary importance of acting on our increasing interdependence.

There's a fascinating book that's been published sometime in the last year, I think, by Robert Wright called "Nonzero." Some of you have perhaps read it. The title refers to game theory. A zero-sum game is one that, in order for me to win, you have to lose, a game like a presidential election.

BLITZER: President Clinton at Princeton University speaking about the global situation. We're told he had some remarks specifically about the situation in Yugoslavia. We will bring those remarks to you shortly. We'll the get the tape and play that for you shortly.

In the meantime, we want to bring in an expert on the situation in Yugoslavia. He is Stojan Serovic (ph). He's now a visiting fellow at the U.S. Institute for Peace, a journalist for Belgrade. Give us your sense, Mr. Serovic. What -- the magnitude of these historic developments right now in your country. STOJAN CEROVIC, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: This is going to be an extremely breaking event. Serbia will become completely different country after this. This is beginning of the new phase of history, and whatever Kostunica might be, people around him, he will be something almost opposite of Milosevic. There will be completely different style of doing business in Serbia. Serbia will be in a world more compatible with the rest of the world, Europe, and I guess that the major development what we will see in very, very soon in the future. Serbia will be reintegrated with Europe, and it's definitely very, very positive development.

BLITZER: Are you, Mr. Cerovic, are you taking it for granted, are you assuming right now that President Milosevic is going to in fact step down?

CEROVIC: I think that it's a matter of hours, maybe days, but not weeks. He is out, yes.

BLITZER: And what happens to him? Is he arrested? Does he flee? What happens to President Milosevic?

CEROVIC: It's a big question, but I prefer to leave it to him to decide about his own personal, how he prefers to end. He may end some more peaceful way. He may withdrawal, probably stay in country, at least for a while, or he may choose some more violent way of stepping down by trying to use some force. That force will be used against him very, very soon, so it's up to him.

I'm just convinced that he's finished and he's out definitely.

He still may, in theory, think about announcing emergency state, but I don't think there will be too many people in the army or in the police willing to listen to that, and I guess he is just too weak now.

BLITZER: Mr. Cerovic, please standby. We want to bring back our Belgrade bureau chief, Alessio Vinci, who's standing by with the latest information from the streets of Belgrade -- Alessio.


You were talking with your guest about the police. Well, we understand that the opposition representatives have talked to the head of Belgrade police just a few minutes ago, and they have requested a meeting with the minister of interior. However, we understand from opposition sources that minister of interior has refused to meet with opposition leaders, with representatives of the opposition.

We've been reporting all day today that he police have shown restraint in breaking those demonstrations. They have reacted only briefly earlier this afternoon, when the demonstrators tried to storm the parliament building, and we have not seen the police ever since. However, according to an opposition leader, who had a meeting with the Belgrade police, the minister of interior of Yugoslavia of Serbia, at this point, is refusing to meet with the opposition leaders. This may be significant event, a significant twist, because there has been some reports earlier by the opposition that the police has completely collapsed, and therefore, they were just waiting to hear from the army.

However, this refusal from interior minister could be a significant twist. Regardless of the fact people are celebrating, they really believe this is over. I think until really know what the security forces will do, whether the police or the army. It will be then up to them to decide whether the celebrations will continue in the next coming days.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Alessio, it's now after 10:00 p.m. in Yugoslavia. Tell us, is there any sign that the crowds are getting smaller on the streets, or are people still in huge numbers demonstrating?

VINCI: If anything, Wolf, they are coming out in more, and more and more. I mean, we're seeing outside our office here, sporadically, the crowd going down and moving throughout the country. What we understand at this point is that there are hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Belgrade.

These are the numbers that the opposition wanted to see earlier today, and now of course, as the news spread out that the opposition is taking control of major institutions here, the federal building, the state television, the state news agency, that news spread out, people came out, and really started celebrating in the streets.

What we're seeing today is really people taking over power with their will to really protect what they really believe was a total victory that President Milosevic say he tried to steal from them. This is a major victory for the people, so far, against 10-year-old struggle against President Milosevic.

But as I said earlier, we have to be really careful. We have to caution the fact so far although we have seen the police restraint, although we have not seen intervention of the army, we don't really know at this point what they're up, we don't know if the police, indeed, has collapsed the way some opposition leaders are saying. We don't really know what the army is going to do. An opposition leader just told us that they asked for a meeting within interior minister, and interior minister refused to see them. So there are still some staunch opposition loyalists who are holding up.

So we have to see in the next few hours what the opposition leaders are trying to do now, is trying to keep these people in the streets. They have to remain in the streets until this is over, because if they go home, we don't know what will happen. They have to remain in the street. That is a major, major, major challenge for the opposition, trying to get these people out celebrating and dancing.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And Alessio, until now, what has the opposition said should happen to President Milosevic. Specifically, Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition leader, the comments that he's made in recent days about President Milosevic. What specifically does he want President Milosevic to do beyond stepping down?

VINCI: Well, Vojislav Kostunica has been very outspoken and critical against the United States, especially saying the United States turned this election into an anti-Milosevic campaign. Mr. Kostunica is on the record as saying that the handover of Mr. Milosevic to The Hague will not be his first priority. However, he said he also said several times that he will recognize that Serbia will have international obligations, and I think that once all this is over, if it's going to indeed come to an end, Mr. Kostunica will have to recognize the fact that the international community here will have to play a major role, especially with injection of large amounts of money. And therefore, he will have to see that what he will do with Mr. Milosevic.

He said it's not a priority, but he understand the international community, especially in the United States, will want to bring Mr. Milosevic back to The Hague.

BLITZER: Alessio, standby. I want to bring back Jill Dougherty, our Moscow bureau chief. She's getting some additional Russian reaction what is happening in Yugoslavia.

Jill, tell us what that reaction is.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's coming from President Vladimir Putin. As these events were taking place in Yugoslavia, Mr. Putin was on his way back by air from Indiana, an official trip there. As soon as he landed there in Moscow, he had an immediate meeting with his top security advisers, defense minister, foreign minister, and then he issued a taped statement. In that, he said, Russia has always stood by Yugoslavia, and now he said Russia is ready to do everything it can to help Yugoslavia at this moment.

Here is what he said:


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We would hope that the events, the very dramatic events taking place in Yugoslavia, would end with a resolution to the political crisis, so that Yugoslavia would emerge from its isolation. We're directing all our efforts towards that end. We are prepared to work with international organizations and with all other interested countries, with Yugoslavia of course.


DOUGHERTY: There have been reports coming out of Washington that the U.S. wanted Mr. Putin to go even farther, to say that Mr. Kostunica had won the election or to acknowledge that win. Mr. Putin did not do that.

If you look at the statement, he did talk about helping Yugoslavia to come out of international isolation, but that's about as far as he went. This has been the position of Russia all along, a very careful position, vis-a-vis Yugoslavia, and now President Putin coming out with that statement, offering whatever Russia can do, no specifics, to help Yugoslavia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty in Moscow, thank you very much.

I'm sure we'll be back to you today as these developments unfold.

We want to go back to Princeton, New Jersey. President Clinton has been delivering a speech on international issues at Princeton, New Jersey.

Our White House correspondent Kelly Wallace joins us now with some highlights -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's exactly right. Mr. Clinton just finished up that speech here at Princeton University. The president talking about the role he believes the United States should play in an increasingly interdependent world. The president at the very end of that speech talking about the fight for freedom currently under way in the Balkans, how the president hopes a true democracy is not too far off.

Here is what President Clinton said just a short time ago.


CLINTON: Today, as I said earlier, in Serbia, where a decade ago the forces of destruction began their march across the Balkans. Now the march of freedom is gaining new ground. Yesterday, the Serbian police went into the coal mines and refused to fire on the coal miners. Today, in the parliament building, there, as I said, thousands of young people like you, and not so young people like me, standing up there, saying they want their country back, they want to be free, they voted and they want they're vote respected. The people of Serbia have spoken with their ballots, they have spoken on the streets. I hope the errors -- the hour is near when their voices will be heard and we can welcome them to Democracy, to Europe, to the world's community.

And when they do...


WALLACE: And the president continuing on there saying, when they do, if there is Democratic change in Serbia, the United States would lift sanctions on the country, in his words, "welcoming the people of Serbia to the world community of Democracy," allowing them to have the partnership with the United States that they deserve -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelly Wallace in Princeton, New Jersey.

Earlier today, both presidential candidates here in the United States also spoke out about the situation in Yugoslavia.

Let's listen to what George W. Bush and Al Gore had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We call upon Milosevic to get out of power. It will be taken from him if he does not, because the people of Serbia have spoken, and now, they're rising up.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The people have spoken. It is time for Mr. Milosevic to go.


BLITZER: Once again, we're joined by our guest here in Washington, Stojan Cerovic. He's a columnist for an independent news magazine in Belgrade. He's a visiting fellow at the U.S. Institute for Peace here in Washington.

Well, what do you make about this U.S. reaction that we're hearing from President Clinton from the presidential candidates today is, how is that going to play among Serbs in Yugoslavia?

CEROVIC: Well, I'm sure people will be glad to hear something like that. They haven't been hearing so many positive messages in the recent years, the last few years, from the United States.

So it will be encouraging, but in the first place, these people are occupied with what is going on in their country. They are really trying to liberate themselves, and I don't think that anybody from abroad really play any substantial role in this situation right now, not -- including Russia. I think that this is predominantly something that Serbs are trying to accomplish, more or less all by themselves.

BLITZER: How do you explain, Mr. Cerovic, the quiet response from the Yugoslav army to all of these demonstrations on the streets of Belgrade?

CEROVIC: Well, you know, Yugoslav army is -- I don't think that they are extremely enthusiastic about Mr. Kostunica. I guess the police, some top-ranking generals would be more close to Milosevic, but then, you know, with this election results -- you know, Milosevic -- even officially the -- his electoral commission admit that Milosevic lost the elections, so for the army to try to protect president who lost legitimacy, it's really pretty difficult.

I guess that they just decide to stay out of this at least for a while, they just don't want to -- you know, it's very, very difficult to give order to somebody to shoot because you lost elections. I mean, people just don't want to be part of that. I think that they are aware that Milosevic's days are over, and they don't want to be blamed for this attempt to protect his power now when it's closing at the end.

BLITZER: And do you think that everyone in Yugoslavia assumes that if the opposition leader takes over, Mr. Kostunica, that the U.S., the Europeans, the international community will very, very quickly lift those sanctions, those economic sanctions against Yugoslavia? CEROVIC: I am sure that people are really hoping for that and looking forward and, I guess, with good reason. I mean, I do believe that they are convinced that Serbia will be accepted by international community as soon as Milosevic is out. So it's -- there is really great hope that some aid, some support will come very soon. Serbia will need it definitely.

BLITZER: All right, Stojan Cerovic, from the U.S. Institute of Peace, a visiting journalist from Belgrade here in Washington, thank you so much for joining us. We -- we're going to continue our coverage of these dramatic developments in Yugoslavia, but we want to first take this commercial break. Stay with us.




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