Milosevic threatens strikers

Associated Press

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Escalating the Yugoslav crisis, President Slobodan Milosevic’s embattled government threatened for the first time Tuesday to arrest leaders of the nationwide strikes seeking to drive him from office.

But the strikes appeared to spread in the second day of the protests aimed at forcing Milosevic to accept that he lost the Sept. 24 elections to Vojislav Kostunica and step down. Instead, Milosevic has called a runoff election for Sunday, which the opposition has repeatedly rejected.

Police in the southern town of Vranje dispersed about 2,000 protesters, and opposition officials said dozens were arrested Tuesday. They were promptly sentenced to between 10 and 30 days in jail for taking part in the work stoppages and roadblocks, the opposition coalition reported.

Milosevic dispatched the army’s chief of staff, Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, to the Kolubara coal mine south of Belgrade to demand that strikers return to work. It marked the first time Milosevic has used the military in any role during the current crisis.

But the miners, who supply coal to a major Yugoslav power plant at Obrenovac, told the general they would remain on strike until Milosevic accepts that he lost the presidential election.

The government immediately struck back by introducing four-hour power cuts to opposition-controlled cities, blaming the strikers for a shortage of coal.

In the apparent broadening of strikes, workers at a key copper mine in the southern town of Majdanpek walked off the job. They parked dump trucks at the mine gates and unloaded dirt and rocks to build barricades, the private Beta news agency reported.

The government warned in a televised statement that it would not tolerate "violent behavior," which disrupts vital institutions and threatens lives.

"Special measures will be taken against the organizers of these criminal activities," the government said, clearly threatening opposition leaders with arrest. "These measures also apply to media that are financed from abroad and are breeding lies, untruths and inciting bloodshed."

The opposition has called for people to rally in Belgrade Ttoday, in a final push to drive Milosevic from power and has repeatedly rejected taking part in a runoff Sunday, convinced that the president would cheat again.

"No one has the right to so bluntly annul the people’s will," Kostunica said. "If we did that we would betray the will of the voters."

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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