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Monday, 29 May, 2000, 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK
Milosevic opens replacement bridge
President Milosevic crossing the rebuilt bridge
The Yugoslav leader hailed the bridge as a moral victory
The Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, has made a rare public appearance to open a new bridge built over the Danube in the northern city of Novi Sad.

The structure, which will carry cars and trains, replaces an old railway bridge destroyed by Nato during its bombing campaign last year.

At the same time, the leaders of the three main opposition parties in Serbia have been seeking help in Moscow against recent actions by Mr Milosevic's government.

They set off for Russia after addressing 10,000 opposition demonstrators at a rally in Belgrade on Saturday.

Guaranteed welcome

The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Belgrade says President Milosevic looked relaxed and confident at the opening ceremony, an important event for his prestige.

Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic
Opposition leader Vuk Draskovic is in Moscow

Socialist party workers ensured there was a big crowd to welcome him, bussing in tens of thousands of people from towns all over Serbia.

In a speech carried by state-run television, Mr Milosevic described the bridge as a symbol of reconstruction, following the Nato air strikes.

This was proof, he said, that Serbia had been victorious in the conflict with Nato.

The bridge-opening ceremony in Novi Sad was the government's response to the recent opposition rallies in Belgrade.


Meanwhile, the army chief of staff, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, has been reasserting the right of the Serbian security forces to go back to Kosovo.

Serbian journalists protesting against their treatment
Serbian journalists have been protesting against their treatment
He said the return of the police and the army was guaranteed by international agreements.

Our correspondent says that both the speech of President Milosevic and the comments of General Pavkovic indicate that the Belgrade authorities are feeling confident and assertive.

The police briefly arrested 29 activists from the opposition League of Social Democrats as they distributed anti-government leaflets in Novi Sad, and the student group Otpor said that 14 more of its members had been arrested on Monday in the cities of Nis and Subotica.

Russia's role

In Moscow, the three opposition leaders - Vuk Draskovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement, Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party and Vojislav Kostunica of the Serbian Democratic Party - are reported to have met officials at the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The minister himself, Igor Ivanov, had no plans to see them, although Mr Draskovic said they would meet shortly.

The leaders are also to see some Russian parliamentary and church leaders.

The trio are campaigning for fresh elections in Serbia, and are asking for Russian help against recent closures of independent broadcasters in Serbia.

The Russian Government, traditionally a staunch backer of the Yugoslav Government, recently appealed to President Milosevic and the opposition to settle their differences over press freedom and the closures.

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See also:

29 May 00 | Media reports
Milosevic's 'moral victory'
27 May 00 | Europe
Thousands join Belgrade protest
26 May 00 | Europe
Students protest in Belgrade
21 May 00 | Europe
Activists detained in Serbia
20 May 00 | Europe
Analysis: Tense times in Serbia
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