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Saturday, April 17, 1999 Published at 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK


World: Europe

Belgrade runs for peace

Thousands of people took part in a 5km fun run

Some 24 nights of Nato air strikes have failed to deter runners from taking part in Belgrade's traditional marathon - held this year amid calls for peace.

Kosovo: Special Report
Only 40 runners, including an American and two Germans, took part in the race. They wore white T-shirts, emblazoned with the motto "Stop the war" on the front and, instead of numbers, big black target signs with the word "runner" on the back.

State news agency Tanjug said the marathon's organisers decided to limit the number of runners "due to the Nato aggression".

The race began with Franjo Mihalic, Yugoslavia's best ever marathon runner, setting free a dove of peace in front of St Mark's Church.

Mr Mihalic said the tradition of the Belgrade marathon had not stopped. "Even if they continue to bomb us, the race will continue," he said.

Speaking at the starting line, Belgrade Mayor Vojislav Mihailovic said: "We are here for peace, for sport competitions. This is what we can to do defend ourselves against the aggression we are victims of."

'We are all winners'


[ image:
"Run for fun, not from bombs" was the Belgrade message
A five-kilometre fun run, with several thousand participants including Yugoslav Sports Minister Velizar Djeric, got under way 15 minutes after the marathon.

People of all ages - some of them carrying umbrellas - ran under heavy rain through the streets of central Belgrade. Runners carried banners which read: "We are all winners today."

Organisers said that the marathon runners would follow the 42.2km track in three hours so that all competitors would be able to symbolically cross the finish line at the same time.

Among those taking part in the marathon was professional American runner Zane Branson.

He arrived in the Yugoslav capital several days before the race to organise the participation of foreign runners, who also came from Russia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and Romania.

He said he stayed in Belgrade even when bombs started to fall. "I am not a politician. I don't want to be involved in politics," he said.

London connection

Meanwhile at Sunday's London Marathon in the UK, some runners will wear gold ribbons to show their support for the emergency appeal which is raising money for those affected by the fighting in Kosovo.

"The crisis in Kosovo has affected us all and we are delighted to be in a position to help raise awareness of the issue," said London Marathon Chief Executive Nick Bitel.



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