Wednesday, August 11, 1999 Published at 07:06 GMT 08:06 UK
Church asks Milosevic to step down
Church said a rally was not the place for Patriarch to express his views
The Serbian Orthodox Church has appealed to President Slobodan Milosevic to hand over power to a transitional government, which could rescue the country's economy and prepare new elections.
But the church dealt a blow to the opposition by announcing that it will not participate in a large anti-government demonstration next week.
The statement makes clear the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church - moral support to the opposition movement but nothing more.
A senior cleric, Archbishop Artemije, appeared on local television in the southern city of Nis to read out the announcement.
He repeated the church's appeal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Serbian President Milan Milutinovic to resign and make way for new leaders capable of leading Serbia out of its current impasse.
The church voiced its support for all democratic and peace-loving forces in the country and gave its seal of approval to the idea of a transitional government and extraordinary elections.
But the archbishop stressed the limits of the church's action.
The patriarch would not appear at an opposition rally planned for Belgrade in a week's time.
A rally was not the place for the head of the church to express his views, he said.
The announcement will be a major blow to the opposition, which had talks with the patriarch on Monday about the involvement of the church in the campaign to unseat Mr Milosevic.
Opposition politicians had hoped the church would act as a unifying force, encouraging rival leaders such as Vuk Draskovic and Zoran Djindjic to overcome their differences in pursuit of a common goal.
In particular, the church's decision to take a low profile is depriving the opposition of the kind of moral leadership which the patriarch could have provided.