Opposition denies it held secret talks with Milosevic


REPORTS that members of the Zajedno (Together) opposition alliance have been holding secret negotiations with representatives of President Slobodan Milosevic have been strongly denied by the Zajedno leader, Mr Vuk Draskovic.

Setting out on his nightly march through the streets of Belgrade, Mr Draskovic, head of the Serbian Renewal Movement, told The Irish Times: "There has been no dialogue. There is no dialogue, because Milosevic does not want dialogue."

Earlier, Mr Vojislav Kostunica, leader of the Democratic Party of" Serbia, which is not a member of Zajedno, had been quoted in Belgrade newspapers and in the Spanish daily, El Pais, as saying negotiations were taking part behind the scenes.

There were, however, indications of a softer stance against the opposition, who are protesting against the annulment of their victories in local elections, by some of Mr Milosevic's supporters.

Mr Dusan Mihajlovic, leader of the New Democracy party which is an ally of the President's Socialist Party, told the opposition newspaper, Blic, that the government should "respect the will of the electorate."

The independent news agency, Beta, carried a statement from the Yugoslav United Left (JUL), which is run by Mr Milosevic's wife, Ms Mira Markovic, saying a common solution" was possible, but hinting that this would take time.

The pro Milosevic media, on the other hand, have been taking a more strident line, accusing the opposition of being the dupes of the CIA, which wants to weaken Yugoslavia, and of being financed by the Albanian drug mafia.

On the opposition side there have been indications of a slow but significant growth in support in its daily demonstrations.

Yesterday the students who start the day's marching were joined by striking metal workers and representatives of the Yugo automobile workers from the city of Kragujevac.

Up to now the lack of support from workers has been the protest movement's main weakness.

The Nezavisnost (Independence) trade union claims striking workers have been prevented from holding protest marches under threat from the police.

This was borne out on a visit by this correspondent yesterday morning to the big garage complex where Belgrade's public transport vehicles are maintained.

I was politely refused entry to the centre by a man in civilian clothes who was carrying a bolstered hand gun. "I have no "authority to let you in," he said.

But one worker outside the complex, while not giving his name, was ready to give his views. "They won't let you in there because they don't want you to see the conditions we work in. Most of the workers support the demonstrations but are afraid to do so. We have been visited by the police," he said.

There was no let up in the demonstrations yesterday, with about 30,000 students marching peacefully at 1 p.m. with humorous posters and western flags, but without the effigy of Mr Milosevic which caused the arrest of Mr Dejan Bulatovic (21), who was allegedly beaten and threatened by police.

The police have issued a statement, supposedly from Mr Bulatovic, saying he was well treated.