Kosovo Tensions On The Rise

Undeterred by two straight nights of police beatings, opposition activists seeking the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic prepared for another march Friday on the home of the Yugoslav president.

The planned demonstration follows two consecutive nights in which riot police waded into crowds of tens of thousands of opposition supporters, beating people as they lay injured on the pavement or cornered in side streets.

In the latest confrontation, about 300 helmeted police squared off with marchers attempting to cross a main Belgrade bridge Thursday night. They clubbed opposition leader Zoran Djindjic before sweeping into the mass of up to 40,000 protesters and chasing them off the span.

Hundreds of police reinforcements were bused in, pursuing the retreating masses, trapping and beating people.

Independent Radio B2-92 reported at least 10 people injured Thursday. But workers at a private clinic said they knew of at least 18 injuries.

Djindjic, the opposition leader, spoke to the reassembled protesters after the beatings.

"Despite the brutal repression, we shall prevail with nonviolent means," he said. "We are growing in numbers every day, our strength is in our numbers."


AP
Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic confronts riot police at Belgrade demonstration.

He claimed up to 6,000 police were involved in Thursday's confrontation. Police said they had arrested 21 people at the rally.

Despite the crackdown, protest leaders planned another march Friday night, this time driving cars to gridlock Milosevic's upscale neighborhood.

The harsh police reaction is apparently motivating thousands more to join the daily anti-Milosevic rallies spearheaded by the Alliance for Change coalition. Thursday's crowd was about 10,000 people larger than Wednesday's.

Also Thursday, more than 20,000 people assembled in Novi Sad and over 10,000 in Nis, Serbia's second- and third-largest cities. In Nis, residents booed Milosevic at the main square and shouted: "Killers, killers!"

The opposition blames Milosevic for a decade of economic misery, aggravated by his defiance of NATO that led to prolonged bombing and the subsequent de-facto loss of the Serbian province of Kosovo.

Meanwhile, the province's ethnic violence continued, as three Serbs were killed in separate attacks in southern and eastern Kosovo, the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force said Friday.

An elderly couple were found shot dead in their home in the southern city of Prizren in Kosovo's German-run military sector on hursday, KFOR said in its daily update of incidents.

In the U.S. sector, three unknown attackers beat and stabbed two Serb men in a cornfield near the eastern town of Vitina. One man died from his wounds while another was taken to hospital and was in a stable condition, KFOR said.

Attacks on minority Serbs by ethnic Albanians, angry at years of Serb repression, have plagued Kosovo since KFOR and the United Nations effectively assumed control of the Serbian province in mid-June.

In the most serious recent attack, two grenades exploded in a marketplace killing two Serbs and wounding more than 40 others in the central town of Kosovo Polje on Tuesday.

A senior U.S. military officer said a U.S. paratrooper died Friday after his parachute failed to open in an exercise over Kosovo.

U.S. military officials did not immediately release the identity of the soldier, who was taking part in the exercise by more than 120 paratroopers from the U.S. Army's Company A, 1- 508th Airborne Battalion Combat Team.

The paratrooper whose chute failed to open was rushed to the hospital at Camp Bondsteel, a nearby U.S. military base, but died from his injuries, U.S. military officials said.