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Monday, July 19, 1999 Published at 01:38 GMT 02:38 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Opposition has some way to go

Around 15,000 turned out for a rally in Kragujevac

By Jacky Rowland in Kragujevac

The Yugoslav army chief of staff , General Dragoljub Ojdanic, has spoken out in defence of Slobodan Milosevic as calls mount for the president's resignation.

In an overtly political statement by a professional soldier, General Ojdanic said that opposition groups campaigning for the removal of the Yugoslav leader would not win the people's support.

Kosovo: Special Report
The general's comments came as the maverick Yugoslav politician, Vuk Draskovic, threw his hat into the opposition ring.

After weeks of flirting with both the government and the opposition Alliance for Change, Mr Draskovic added his voice to calls for President Milosevic's resignation.

Mr Draskovic chose the central Serbian town of Kragujevac as the venue to relaunch himself as heir apparent to the opposition movement.

About 15,000 people turned out for an open-air rally in a town square. Party managers tried to ensure that Mr Draskovic's return to the opposition camp would go off with a bang.

Kragujevac municipal council is controlled by his Serbian Renewal Movement, and as an added precaution hundreds of vocal supporters were bussed in to swell the crowds.

[ image: Vuk Draskovic:
Vuk Draskovic: "This government must be laid down"
Mr Draskovic took to the stage in a cloud of pyrotechnics. His supporters in the crowd waved flags and portraits of the opposition leader.

Mr Draskovic told the crowd that President Milosevic had failed Serbia in Kosovo.

He accused the president of lying when he promised to rebuild the country after Nato's bombing campaign, saying that vital Western aid would be withheld as long as the Yugoslav leader remained in power.

"This government must be laid down, not the Serbian flag," Mr Draskovic said, to enthusiastic applause.

Opposition divided

What Mr Draskovic's supporters and the Alliance for Change cannot hide is the fact that the Serbian opposition movement is hopelessly divided.

Mr Draskovic has turned down repeated offers to join forces with the Alliance for Change, declaring somewhat imperiously that he is big enough to go it alone.

"We are a river and they are a stream," he said, referring to the Alliance. "A river does not join a stream."

Some Alliance leaders are trying to build bridges. Milan Protic welcomed Mr Draskovic's decision to place himself firmly in the opposition camp. He said intensive efforts were underway to increase cooperation between all opposition forces.

But others are less charitable. One of the main organisers of the recent demonstrations, Vladan Batic, accused Mr Draskovic of being a government stooge and trying to preserve the ruling structures.

"Draskovic talks about respecting a constitution that doesn't exist," said Mr Batic. "He is trying to provide a way through which (the government of Slobodan Milosevic) will buy its way out."

Many people in Serbia saw Mr Draskovic's rally over the weekend in Kragujevac as the acid test of whether the protest movement has reached its critical mass.

The turnout was one of the largest seen at an opposition demonstration so far.

But Mr Milosevic is for the time-being sitting comfortable in Belgrade, with the knowledge that the opposition still has some way to go before it can begin to offer a credible challenge to his rule.

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