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People vs. Milosevic, Part 3: Downfall

After the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 over the issue of Kosovo, anger against Milosevic spread around the country  

By CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia during the spring of 1999 seemed at first a gift to Milosevic, a chance for him to re-energize his people's sagging nationalism.

Crowds on the streets of Belgrade taunted NATO with bullseye targets.

But after NATO bombed Serbian state TV in Belgrade, the public turned their rage upon Milosevic. Popular perception was that the president knew the building was a target, but the workers inside weren't warned. Sixteen young technicians were killed.

"Nobody believed that these people were not left there in order to have more victims for propaganda. It was their families who didn't believe it, their colleagues who didn't believe," says political scientist Vojin Dimitrijevic.

The People vs. Milosevic
Part 1: Milosevic's arrest 
Part 2: Balkan wars 
Part 3: Downfall 
Part 4: Epic corruption 
Part 5: Bodybags 
Part 6: Shadows 

Bereaved father Kuzman Stoimenovsky said: "I accuse Milosevic, who made this happen. He destroyed the country, destroyed the people, destroyed our children and many more."

By the time NATO stopped bombing in the summer of 1999, popular anger against Milosevic was spreading around the country. He remained firmly in control, but local elections had greatly eased his grip, not only in Belgrade but also in the heartland.

Now the opposition decided to turn Yugoslavia's upcoming presidential election into a do-or-die confrontation.

"If we would lose this opportunity -- last chance -- many of us would not survive," says Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

"And it was a situation of final decision -- to be free and to upset him, to replace him, or to be dead."

The plan was ambitious and dangerous, but at election time, Milosevic played right into the hands of the opposition.

On election day he was beaten in the race for the Yugoslav presidency by a respected former law professor, Vojislav Kostunica. But Milosevic's handpicked election commissioners claimed that Kostunica had received less than the required 50 percent of the vote. They ordered a runoff two weeks later.

"I was from that moment on quite sure and decided -- not to accept any sort of compromise about the truth. There should be no compromises about the truth," says Kostunica.

'I see that Milosevic lost'

As Kostunica cried foul, opposition leaders now saw their best chance to overthrow Milosevic. They had been working on a plan for the past 18 months.

The day before the march on Belgrade, Zoran Djindjic met with the chief of Milosevic's special operations unit  

"The idea was actively organize people, general strike, with a deadline, one day coming to Belgrade, and we planned to take television, to take Parliament, to take some buildings, and then negotiate," says Djindjic.

Opposition leaders set October 5 for a general strike and a coordinated five-pronged march on Belgrade. The day before, at Kolubara outside Belgrade, striking workers at the country's largest coal mine clashed with police.

Incredibly, the police backed off. But a still greater threat loomed for Djindjic and the opposition: Milosevic's feared special operations unit. That night, Djindjic went to see the colonel in charge.

"And I asked what orders they did receive and what they will do. And he said he didn't receive the order, but he will receive the order tomorrow, and the order will be to use violence," says Djindjic.

Djindjic was talking to Col. Milorad Ulemek, more commonly known as Legija. Legija insisted that he and Djindjic meet alone.

"It was very high risk for me to have this meeting," says Djindjic. "His condition was to have this meeting outside of the city without bodyguards, without weapons, and he was of course with weapons."

"This is the man Milosevic had ordered to kill you?" CNN asked Djindjic.

"Yes. And he said 'I am not politician. I am professional,'" Djindjic said. "'I see that Milosevic lost election.'"

And the revolution was about to begin. At daybreak on October 5, a long column of buses, cars and trucks left the city of Uzice for Belgrade.

Groups of riot police just stood and watched as the men from Uzice pressed on.

Ahead of them on the same road -- another determined group from Cacak. And they weren't wasting any time with roadblocks.

"As I watch those videos, I can't believe myself," says Velja Ilic, mayor of Cacak. "Where did we get all the strength? Where did we get all the force?"

With one goal in mind, convoys from all over Serbia converged on Belgrade, and they kept on coming.

'It is over'

Ten years after they swept him to power, the people were now marshalling all of their forces against Milosevic.

By noon half a million people jammed all the streets around the Parliament.

Kostunica: "The most decisive moment that Milosevic had lost that battle was, of course, the reaction of the police and the army"  

"My role was to jump start the reaction of the people, the reaction of the masses," says Vladan Batic, Serbian justice minister.

"I agreed with the people close to me that the moment I speak, they should try to enter the Federal Parliament."

"I saw hundreds of people running -- running from this gas, and they recognized me and said we will come back, just a few minutes to recover and we will come back," says Djindjic.

"At this moment I said to my wife, 'It is over. With these people, Milosevic cannot stay. It is not possible.'"

That's when Djindjic took a call on his cell phone from Legjia, the special forces commander.

"And he said, 'It's over,'" Djindjic says.

Their orders had been to crush the rebellion. But in the end, the most feared unit of Milosevic's security backed down.

"For me the most decisive moment that Milosevic had lost that battle was, of course, the reaction of the police and the army," says Kostunica.

When dawn broke on October 6, the opposition had won.

Later on television, Milosevic conceded the election. But it wasn't over yet.

Even though Yugoslavia had a new president, elections to the powerful Serbian Parliament were not scheduled until December.

Until then, Milosevic's Socialist Party still controlled Serbia's security apparatus.

Rade Markovic, Milosevic's secret police chief, would continue in office for four more months, burning papers and shredding secrets to the very end.

"And how much damage has he done in those four months in terms of evidence and getting rid of vital documents?" CNN asked Djindjic.

"All what was interesting for this criminal phase of our history is destroyed. We don't have proofs. We don't have documents. We don't have physical evidences. We must find witnesses," says Djindjic.

But as they started digging, they did find both witnesses and documents.


• Case against Milosevic In-depth Special

• International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

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