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Sunday, April 18, 1999 Published at 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK

Serbian toxic fumes fear

Smoke and flames rise from a bombed fertilizer plant in Pancevo

The Serbian media has tried to reassure the public after overnight Nato bomb strikes on oil refineries sent up columns of thick smoke around Yugoslavia's main cities.

Refineries at Pancevo near Belgrade and Novi Sad in the northern Vojvodina region were hit in the attacks.

Kosovo: Special Report
Serbian television reported: "By bombing Petrohemija, Azotara (chemical and fertilizer plants in Pancevo) and the oil refinery, the Nato aggressors have cast the last veil from their genocidal plan - namely, they tried to provoke an environmental disaster by targeting an installation containing highly noxious substances, which is a precedent in the rules of warfare."

However it said that fumes caused by the attacks were being monitored closely and, so far, were not causing a danger to the public.

Health precautions

The Yugoslav state news agency Tanjug reported that residents of Novi Sad, where eight people were injured in the attacks, were advised to remain indoors and breathe through handkerchiefs.

[ image: Serb TV accused Nato of trying to spark an environmentsal disaster]
Serb TV accused Nato of trying to spark an environmentsal disaster
"The column of rising thick smoke above the oil refinery, which is being carried towards the city by an eastern wind, contains no poisonous materials, but the city residents have, nevertheless, been advised to stay inside and breathe through handkerchiefs soaked in a solution of water and baking soda," the agency said.

The Serbian news agency Beta later reported four firemen had been admitted to hospital in Pancevo suffering from exposure to the smoke.

Some video footage of night-time fires at the refineries was shown on Serbian TV's news bulletins on Sunday, as well as some tracer fire being directed into the skies around Novi Sad.

The bulletins later showed black smoke streaming across the sky in daylight.

Toddler killed

The TV also showed a bomb-damaged apartment in the Belgrade suburb of Batajnica, where it said a number of people including a three-year-old girl had been injured in the Nato attacks.

Beta news agency reported that the girl, named as Milica Rakic, was actually killed.

The TV news bulletins, however, led with video reports on Saturday's cabinet meeting in Belgrade chaired by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, which was devoted to coping with the economic impact of the Nato attacks, and an agriculture meeting chaired by Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic.

[ image: Four firemen were admitted to hospital in Pancevo after inhaling too much smoke]
Four firemen were admitted to hospital in Pancevo after inhaling too much smoke
The bulletins also repeated extensive excerpts from the interview given on Saturday by the commander of Yugoslav troops in Kosovo, Gen Nebojsa Pavkovic, in which he promised "total war" and "heavy losses" in the event of a Nato ground invasion.

The video showed Pavkovic standing in front of a camouflaged vehicle in woodland with young soldiers in full combat gear surrounding him.

There was also new footage of the "human shield" on Belgrade's Brankov bridge, with members of the crowd sending messages of defiance to Nato in vox pops for the TV.

The crowds were joined on Saturday night by demonstrators from Greece, brandishing the national flag for the camera.

In its coverage of foreign news, Serbian TV focused on developments in Russia.

Its Moscow correspondent reported that President Boris Yeltsin was to hold a high-level meeting on the Nato-Yugoslavia conflict on Monday, while an interview with the high-profile mayor of Moscow, Yuriy Luzhkov, was shown in which he warned that a Nato ground invasion could provoke a new "Vietnam" in Europe.

Anti-war rallies

The TV also showed video clips of anti-war rallies in Macedonia, Germany, France and Hungary, and Tanjug reported on anti-war concerts and rallies in Europe and the US.

Tanjug carried a statement from the Serbian Radical Party, one of the partners in the Serbian coalition government, in which the party said the Nato "monster" would never defeat Serbia.

"They are trying in a cowardly way, from a distance, to take away with bombs and missiles the freedom and territory from a people who were never, and never will be, completely conquered on their territory, where they have been living for centuries," the statement said.

[ image: Nato planes bombed refineries at Pancevo and Novi Sad]
Nato planes bombed refineries at Pancevo and Novi Sad
Tanjug also quoted a Montenegrin newspaper, as saying foreign TV reporters seemed to have known in advance of Nato air attacks in the vicinity of the capital, Podgorica, on Thursday.

"Some foreign TV reporters had gone up to the roof of the Crna Gora hotel with their cameras rolling toward imaginary elevations around the capital... about 10 minutes before the Nato attack was launched," the agency said.

"The daily wondered how the foreign reporters had known that Podgorica was going to be bombed."

The Serbian media's coverage of events in Kosovo itself on Sunday was confined to reports of new Nato attacks in the Pristina area.

There was no mention of the land-mine explosion reported by the OSCE near the Albanian border in which five Kosovo Albanian refugees were killed, or of the situation of the refugees in general.

Serbian satellite TV's English-language news bulletins concentrated on the aftermath of Saturday's bombing, showing video of ruined factories and burning refineries.

It quoted at length a Yugoslav appeal to the UN to condemn the Nato bombing campaign.

The bulletins also carried a report on the visit to Yugoslavia of British Labour MP Alice Mahon, in which she is said to have called for everything possible to be done to stop the bombing.

BBC Monitoring based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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