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Breaking News

Yugoslav Opposition Supporters Enter Federal Parliament Building

Aired October 5, 2000 - 12:06 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In the final weeks of the presidential campaign here in the United States, a stark reminder from Yugoslavia of the perils that come with a push for democracy. The capital, Belgrade, is in upheaval today as opposition protesters forced their way into parliament in a bid to force President Slobodan Milosevic from power.

CNN's Belgrade bureau chief Alessio Vinci is filing a report, now, for CNN International. Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is really up to the people now how to decide how this situation will unfold. He did appeal for calm. But, certainly now, opposition leaders will try to take advantage of this situation.

RALITSA VASSILEVA, CNN ANCHOR: Alessio, we also have reports that some police have joined the protesters. What can you tell us about that?

VINCI: Yes, the opposition is claiming that, at the federal parliament, as the riot policemen left the building, some of the other regular policemen who were in the area, did join -- did join with demonstrators. We have seen some pictures after -- this morning, there was an earlier clash between demonstrators and those policemen. We have seen, after calm was restored, that those demonstrators were joking with the policemen.

So, it is possible that at least a portion of those policemen did side with the demonstrators. It is too early to say, however, to what extent that is happening throughout Belgrade and what the majority of the security forces here -- both the police and the army -- are doing at this time.

What I can tell you is that, despite the fact there are more than 100,000 people here in the city center, we are in -- smack in the center here. We have seen no police, no riot police, no army. We understand that at this point, perhaps, the crowd are now all gathering in front of the parliament. But we have no reports of heavy, heavy military presence, from this side of this stage.

Back to you. VASSILEVA: Alessio, at this point, I would like to welcome our viewers in the United States for also joining us for this coverage of the dramatic events in Belgrade, as protesters storm the parliament building and now they claim, the opposition claims, that they have control of parliament building.

Alessio, speaking of that control of parliament building. What does that mean?

VINCI: OK, well, it is certainly one of the symbols of power here, at least on if the federal level. Certainly, it is way too early to see what this will mean for the opposition in terms of really taking control of the levels of power in this country. Most of the powers in this country were concentrated in the hands of one man, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. So, as long as the demonstrators don't get to him, it will be really unlikely to -- to really take control of the whole country.

It is certainly a significant victory for the opposition here, because they did manage to take control of one of the state institutions that were protected by the police and the police did allow them to do so. So, it is possible, perhaps, that galvanized by this fact and, perhaps, encouraged by the light response of the police, opposition supporters and, perhaps, the more radical ones could continue to go and to go further and continue in their attempt to occupy other buildings. There is the republican parliament. There is a TV station. There are other buildings in this country that they could, in theory, go after.

However, so far, as far as we can tell, the opposition has managed to control, to take control, of the federal parliament and at this point, are not attempting to continue in their campaign of taking control of other state institutions. So, so far, I must stress out, the action, most of the action is primarily taking place in front of the federal parliament and we understand that Mr. Kostunica wants to give a speech, but the power has been cut off inside the federal parliament and therefore they are looking for a generator in order for them to power up the loudspeaker and the sound system. Back to you.

VASSILEVA: And what do you make of the restraint of the police, so far?

VINCI: Well, certainly, what happened here in last few weeks since the election result came out is significant. And, even by Milosevic's own admission, the presidential elections did not go the way they wanted. President Milosevic received 10 percent votes less than the opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica.

And the news went out and several people here and especially among the security forces also realize that President Milosevic is no longer the most popular politician in the country. And therefore, now, perhaps, they're showing some restraint about reacting against those security forces, because -- excuse me -- security forces because they were afraid that if the things would turn for the worst for President Milosevic and, perhaps, if the opposition were to take over control, indeed, here in Belgrade, they would want to be on their side.

And therefore, it is, perhaps, an indication that the police, by showing the fact that they are not willing to intervene harder, they are showing that, in one sense, they are siding with the demonstrators. On the other side, it is also possible that the President Milosevic and his security chiefs did not want to test the willingness of the policemen to go after demonstrators and to really hit harder than that and therefore, give them strict orders to just contain the crowds and not hurt people.

Obviously, if the police had hit harder against the demonstration -- demonstrators, it could have happened that the reaction of the crowd, could have been much larger. I mean, after all, now, the situation, after a few hours of total mess is somewhat under control. The opposition still believes that Vojislav Kostunica will give a speech. There are no policemen in the streets. There is no presence of the army and, as far as we can tell, the majority of the hundreds of thousands of people here who are in the streets of Belgrade, at this point, are calm. There are no signs of any kind of uprising or civil war or any kind of that stuff. We see only demonstrators regathering, regrouping in front of the federal parliament.

VASSILEVA: Alessio, have we heard anything from President Milosevic?

VINCI: No, we have not heard from President Milosevic. I would imagine the only way to hear from him, it would be through state television. We are moderating state television. However, as I mentioned to you earlier, at this point, state television is not even broadcast news bulletins. So, they were broadcasting a concert earlier on. So, at this point, we have heard no reaction from President Milosevic or any of his top officials.

VASSILEVA: And certainly, Alessio, this is the strongest protest, the biggest challenge that President Milosevic has faced in his 13 years in power.

VINCI: Definitely, definitely, we have seen several demonstrations here taking place since the beginning of this decade, '92, '96, '97. Then after the bombing campaign here, last year, this is certainly the first time that protesters, first of all, managed to get a hold of one of the federal buildings, in this case, the federal parliament. And it is also the first time that the security forces have shown little resistance, you know, little -- have tried to contend to only to contain the security -- the protesters.

And so, therefore, there was an action here, where you see the people really galvanized by the fact that the security forces are not responding. And on the other side, the fact that they are really sure, at this point, that 2.5 million people are ready to come out in the streets and support what they claim is their victory.

VASSILEVA: And Alessio, as you mentioned, Serbian television.

BLITZER: Our Belgrade bureau chief, Alessio Vinci, speaking with CNN International anchor, Ralitsa Vassileva on the developing situation on the streets of Belgrade. We will have more as that situation develops.

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