BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — In his first address to the nation since a disputed election, Slobodan Milosevic on Monday branded his opponents puppets of the West. A wave of unrest aimed at driving him from power swept Yugoslavia, and the government responded by arresting dozens of strike leaders.
The general strike and road blockades brought Yugoslavia to a virtual halt in the most serious challenge yet to Milosevic’s 13-year rule. Even the government weather bureau said it would stop issuing forecasts until he concedes defeat in the Sept. 24 presidential election.
Russian President Vladimir Putin stuck to his cautious stance Monday on the standoff in Yugoslavia, resisting Western pressure to call on Milosevic to quit — but offering to mediate between Milosevic and the opposition. The offer, however, was quickly rejected by Yugoslavia’s ambassador to Moscow.
In at least two towns, protesters broke into television stations, among the pillars of the Milosevic regime.
The strikes even spread to Milosevic’s birthplace, Pozarevac, where about 20,000 protesters blocked roads and stopped public services, the independent Beta news agency said.
A spokesman for the opposition coalition, Cedomir Jovanovic, reported several incidents including a clash with police in Surcin, 12 miles west of Belgrade, in which four people were injured.
Dozens of strike leaders were arrested, opposition officials said. The opposition called for people to converge on the capital Thursday in a push to drive Milosevic from power.
Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition leader who says he won the election outright, told reporters "what is happening now is a revolution — a peaceful, nonviolent, wise, civilized, quiet and smart democratic revolution."
Milosevic has admitted finishing second to Kostunica and called a runoff, scheduled Sundayc. But in his televised speech, he accused his opponents of seeking to plunge the country into a "foreign occupation" in which "Yugoslavia will inevitably break up."
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