Yugoslav Opposition Calls a General Strike

B E L G R A D E, Yugoslavia, Sept. 28, 2000 -- The Yugoslav opposition today ordered a general strike to ratchet up pressure on President Slobodan Milosevic to step down.

Opposition leaders said the general strike would involve shutting down schools, offices and other public institutions until the president recognized their election victory and stepped aside.

“We will call people onto the streets and tell them not toleave until he gives up power,” said opposition politician Zoran.

It was the first indication of how the opposition hopes tomaintain pressure on Milosevic to leave office and make way for the opposition candidate.

Making a public appearance for the first time since losing Sunday’S election, Milosevic was shown on Yugoslav television today, attending meetings with his Socialist Party and its coalition partners, the Yugoslav Left and theMontenegrin Socialist Peoples’ Party in Belgrade.

The broadcast was seen as a clear sign that he intended to defy international calls to step down.

Earlier today, the influential Serbian Orthodox Church said it recognized Kostunica as Yugoslavia’s new president-elect.

In a statement, the head of the Holy Synod, Patriarch Pavle, called for a change of power in a “peaceful and dignified way.”

Runoff Standoff

The opposition push for a strike follows a ruling by the State Election Commission that Milosevic and Kostunica must undergo a second round of elections.

The commission’s figures showed Kostunica finishing first in Sunday’s elections with 48.96 percent, leaving Milosevic with 38.62 percent.

But the opposition, claims Kostunica won 52.54 percent to Milosevic’s 32.01 percent and says it will boycott the runoff.

Under Yugoslav law, Kostunica needs a 50 percent majority to win outright power.

The runoff election is set for Oct. 8.

The U.S. has repeatedly supported opposition claims that Kostunica has won the elections. Speaking at a news briefing in Washington today, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said there was no basis for a runoff. “This question of a second round is not an issue. The issue was who won,” Reeker said, adding that the Yugoslav electoral authorities had“absolutely no credibility.”

But as tensions remain high in Yugoslavia, there was talk in Washington that Western officials were making a possible deal to allow Milosevic to leave Belgrade and seek asylum elsewhere — possibly in Russia.

While continuing to publicly insist that they oppose any deal that allows Milosevic to leave Yugoslavia, senior administration officials privately admitted to ABCNEWS that the White House would not oppose such a deal or take any military action to try and arrest Milosevic. Senior officials said the U.S. would put pressure on any country that offers Milosevic asylum to immediately turn him over to the Hague.

Crumbling Support As public demonstrations of support for Kostunica get more vocal, Milosevic’s support within his party is rickety.

Former political allies have gone over to the opposition. Vuk Draskovic, once a minister in the Milosevic-controlled administration, has admitted that he and his party “made a grave mistake” by not joining the opposition coalition.

Vojislav Seselj, an ultra-nationalist and former Milosevic supporter, has also thrown his lot in with the opposition but they do not want him.

And in a further sign of failing support for Milosevic, Milan Beko, both finance minister and head of the nation’s giant Zastava heavy industrial plant in Kragujevac, has resigned.

In addition to producing automobiles, Zastava is believed to be Milosevic’s main weapons-production facility. Despite being bombed flat by NATO last year, it has been resurrected, producing both armaments and Yugo cars.

Many other Milosevic supporters are missing, reportedly headed to Russia, Greece, Cyprus and Israel, where they are alleged to have salted away profits from the black market and kickbacks paid to them by Milosevic for their loyalty.

Military Defections?

Perhaps sensing the turning tide, many of Milosevic’s biggest supporters have already fled. Bogoljub Karic, owner of one of the pro-Milosevic television stations, left for Moscow on Monday with six of his senior staffers.

The first state controlled television station has rebelled. Novi Sad Television, a major regional station, says it will broadcast opposition election rallies despite being barred from doing so by their bosses in Belgrade.

But there are even more significant signs of Milosevic’s crumbling power: the armed forces and police appear to be on the verge of dumping the leader that once commanded their almost-fanatical loyalty.

Army Chief of Staff Nebojsa Pavkovic told French television that the army would never “intervene against its own people.”

Keeping civil peace was the job of the police, he said. And Kostunica has already begun reaching out to them.

“My message to the police and the army is that we are one,” he said at a rally. “The army and the police are part of the people, the part which defends the country, a part which should not only defend one man and his family.”

The police were noticeably absent from the rally in Belgrade Wednesday night, and rallies throughout the nation.

The local police force is reported to have no stomach for a battle with their own people, and it appears that only Milosevic’s well-paid elite “praetorian guard” remain loyal to him — so far.

Behind the scenes, opposition leaders are reportedly in talks with the armed forces and police, as well as China, Russia and Greece — nations that could serve as possible mediators, enabling or at least encouraging Milosevic to leave office without throwing the country into an orgy of violence and civil war.

ABCNEWS.com’ Sue Masterman in Vienna, Lucrezia Cuen in London, ABCNEWS' Rebecca Cooper in Washington and The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.