Compiled from Times staff and wire reports
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 6, 2000
Loyalty of police force key to holding power
BUDVA, Yugoslavia -- As street protests threatened to end Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's rule, a key question Thursday was whether the police forces that form the regime's iron backbone would crack down on the opposition -- or join it.
Leaders in Vojislav Kostunica's 18-party opposition coalition said they had sought a meeting with Vlajko Stojiljkovic, head of Serbia's feared Interior Ministry, in hopes of swaying his police to their side. Stojiljkovic, who along with Milosevic faces an indictment in The Hague, Netherlands, on war crimes charges, refused to meet with them.
In his 13-year rule, Milosevic has built police forces that are 100,000-strong in a republic of only 10-million people. By paying them better than many state workers, and providing them with good housing and other perks, Milosevic turned the police forces into a private army.
The Yugoslav military has been a much less reliable supporter of Milosevic, largely because its foot soldiers are conscripts doing mandatory national service.
Bay area Serbians follow events
"I'm sorry it had to come to this, to have all this rioting," said Michael Babich, president of St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church, a mainstay of Serb culture in Pinellas County. "But it's the only way they're going to get rid of Milosevic."
"It's a good country," said Babich, a Wisconsin retiree. "The people are fed up. They want to get back to normal."
Babich and his wife have been in touch with relatives in Yugoslavia. "It's really rough for them," he said. "They're still suffering. They're short of everything."
By some estimates the St. Petersburg community of former Yugoslavs may number as many as 5,000.
Leaders call on Milosevic to go
Throughout Europe, several leaders called on Milosevic to step down.
"Go," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "Go now. Go before any more lives are lost."
French President Jacques Chirac asked Milosevic's supporters to step aside, saying "for pity's sake, let's stop and give the Serb people back their freedom."
Both major U.S. presidential candidates, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, echoed those remarks.
"So long as Milosevic remains in power, he remains a continued threat to peace and stability in the region," Gore said. "His rule must end."
Bush said, "Our country must work closely with our allies in Europe, the international community including Russia, to pressure Mr. Milosevic to leave office. The world will be a better place when he hears the word of his people and leaves his office."
-- Information from Times staff writer Mike Brassfield and Times wires services was used in this report.
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