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Blair: Milosevic Must Go

Aired October 5, 2000 - 12:45 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We're monitoring the crisis in Yugoslavia. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair is addressing that subject right now.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: ... Milosevic is clear: Go, go now, go before anymore lives are lost, before there is anymore destruction.

And I say this to the people of Serbia: Whatever the differences there have been between us, now that you have reached for democracy, the hand of friendship and partnership from countries like Britain is there for you, so that together, in whatever way we can, we rebuild this troubled part of Europe in order to secure a peaceful and a prosperous future for all the people there.

I'll take a couple of questions.


BLAIR: There's no doubt at all that both in the elections and on the streets, it's the expression of popular and democratic will, which is why Milosevic should heed it and should go and should minimize the further destruction in his country, and allow Serbia to be rebuilt peacefully, as a democracy, and allow us and the rest of Europe to extend our hand of friendship and partnership to people there and help in that endeavor.


BLAIR: We've always made it clear that while Milosevic remains, whilst that dictatorship remains in place, it is very difficult for us to help. But we have a process of reconstruction in the Balkans underway. We want to help all the people there. The people of Serbia are a vital part of that reconstruction.

Now that they are reaching for democracy, now that we can see, if Milosevic goes, there is the prospect of a democratic future for Serbia, then of course we are there and ready and willing to help.


BLAIR: I hope and believe that they should respect the verdict of the people. We've had the elections. The demonstrations on the streets are clearly a demonstration of popular will, and the will of the people should be done.

OK, thank you very much.

BLITZER: Prime Minister Tony Blair, the British prime minister, outside No. 10 Downing Street in London, saying that President Slobodan Milosevic must go.

Joining us now, David Ensor, national security correspondent.

When he says, President Milosevic must go -- he's an indicted war criminal -- where is he supposed to go?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is one of the key questions, and certainly the one that Mr. Milosevic must be spending some time thinking about right now, Wolf.

There is, of course, the fact that Mr. Kostunica has said that he would not turn Mr. Milosevic over to the War Crimes Tribunal. That he doesn't recognize their authority over Yugoslavia, and he would not turn him over.

That may be the most hopeful route that could be taken -- which would be that Mr. Milosevic would resign, there would be a peaceful transfer of power. He would remain in Serbia, protected from the international indictment.

But if this goes on much longer, and if violence should break out, particularly if it is prompted by the authorities, that may be very difficult to sustain. It may be very difficult for Mr. Milosevic to believe that he would be safe in a Serbia run by Mr. Kostunica.

And, at that point -- a number of analysts in town here, both inside and outside the government are now debating: What should the international attitude be towards a refuge for Mr. Milosevic somewhere else?

There are people like former secretary of state Larry Eagleburger who are arguing that the U.S. should, at least, quietly be making a few phone calls and be saying, look, if Bellarus takes Mr. Milosevic -- Cyprus or some other country -- we would not penalize that country because it would save a lot of lives.

BLITZER: Even though, in effect, they would be protecting an internationally indicted war criminal?

ENSOR: That's right. Now, of course, U.S. officials are saying that is not what they intend to do; and publicly they are quite clearly stating they are not going to do that.

I spoke, also, to the recently former deputy national security adviser, James Steinberg. He said he's totally opposed to any approach like that; this is an indicted war criminal, there's no need to make that concession and it should not be made. Still, the question of bloodshed is in the air; and to avoid it, there are some, like Mr. Eagleburger, who argue that some kind of a refuge should be offered.

BLITZER: Is it -- do you have any sense, David, on how much clout, right now, Milosevic has with the military power, the military establishment in Yugoslavia? Are the armed forces committed to him completely?

ENSOR: He cannot be sure that they are. Certainly the generals that he hand-picked to lead the military are loyal to him, or so it would appear. But it is a conscripted military. Everybody's son is in that army.

So they are, in effect, a representative group. And if you look at the way the election went, he has to expect that a substantial number of soldiers, if not a majority, would have voted for Mr. Kostunica if they felt safe in doing so.

BLITZER: And as we take a look at these pictures, underscoring the passion on the faces of the individuals playing out as they storm this parliament building in Belgrade; I have to ask you, how much clout does the United States have? How much influence does the U.S. have in trying to deal with this situation?

ENSOR: To be blunt, precious little.

We, after all, fought against Serbia over the issue of Kosovo. We had our disagreements with Serbia over the issue of Bosnia. The United States is extremely unpopular in Serbia. The only danger would be that, if the administration in Washington mishandled things, it could help Milosevic. By all accounts, all the analysts I've spoken to agree the U.S. cannot help Mr. Kostunica.

BLITZER: And as you take a look -- as you step back and speak with people inside and outside the government, is the sense growing right now that these are, perhaps, the final days of Slobodan Milosevic in power in Yugoslavia?

ENSOR: There seems to be a consensus that this is the beginning of the end of his power. But he's an extremely pragmatic and, at times, ruthless individual who might make choices which would allow him to stay in power for some time to come.

Most analysts seem to believe, however, that the beginning of the end has been reached.

BLITZER: We're hearing, also, that -- from our state department correspondent Andrea Koppel -- that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright may be in contact with President Vladimir Putin in Russia to see if Russia can have some influence.

So the Russians have greater clout in Belgrade than the United States does. President Putin is on his way back, now, to Russia from India. ENSOR: That's certainly true. There's the Slovic tie. Ties of tradition, ties of religion, even. And, certainly, in the past, the Russians have been listened to by Belgrade; but, it doesn't seem, in this situation -- at least that's the view of the analysts I've been speaking to, that Russia has a whole lot of cards it could play and that it would make all that much difference whether Russia came out for Mr. Kostunica or not. Obviously, it would be a good propaganda move from Mr. Kostunica's point of view.

BLITZER: One difference between the Russian and U.S. administration was the whole issue over whether or not there should be a runoff election in the aftermath of the last election. The U.S. saying no, the opposition won. The Russians saying yes, it's probably a good idea to have another round.

ENSOR: Well, the Russians have been neutral which, in effect, means they are not opposing a runoff, and Mr. Putin has spoken of a runoff as if he approves of it. He didn't actually say, I'm for it. But he said, we expect the runoff to occur, and so on.

So they're trying to play kind of a neutral role. They would like, obviously, to retain influence in Belgrade, and they're not sure it would seem -- yet, whether Mr. Milosevic will leave power. Nobody can be sure at this point.

BLITZER: How surprised are you, David, at the restraint -- what some are saying, remarkable restraint -- by the police in Belgrade in dealing with this onslaught by these tens of thousands of demonstrators in not opening up fire?

ENSOR: Well, I think, in some ways, that's the most interesting development of the last few days. We've had massive demonstrations against Mr. Milosevic in the past. Huge demonstrations.

What we have not had is a situation where the police stand back, where they stand aside, where they use nothing larger than tear gas, where it appears that they are torn, or at least some of them are, over which side to be on. That is the new situation.

And that -- the key question, now, really is: What are the various security forces going to do? There is the army we spoke of, it is a conscripted army. Mr. Milosevic can't be sure of its loyalty. There's the police; obviously they are torn. And finally there is the internal security force that Mr. Milosevic has, I think it's 1,000 or more; they are probably loyal to him, but they're not enough to control the country.

BLITZER: All right, David Ensor, our national security correspondent, thank you.

Alessio Vinci, our Belgrade bureau chief, is once again standing by with more. Alessio, what's happening right now?

ALESSIO VINCI, BELGRADE BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, a dramatic development again, here. The situation really unfolding rapidly. The opposition supporters have taken control, now, of the Radio Television Serbia, of the main building here in downtown Belgrade, the RTS building. You may remember that building because it was bombed during the NATO's campaign last year.

That building is now on fire. We have those pictures that were just taken from own cameraman Federa Gabambic (ph) just a few minutes ago. The state television is now on fire. The opposition leaders telling us now that they will be able to resume broadcast at some point in the next few hours from a different studio outside Belgrade -- and they will, of course, try to do that now, is to be able to inform the rest of the country what is happening here now.

It is, of course, a major development because if the opposition, indeed, manages to broadcast throughout the country what is happening here in Belgrade, it is possible that a wider uprising will come out in the streets of not just Belgrade, but also in the rest of Serbia.

Also very important to note, Wolf, here, that another television station here in Belgrade, Studio B, which was under the control of the opposition up until last May, that was taken over by President Milosevic, that TV station also now under the control of the independent journalists supporting the opposition.

So, at this point, we understand that the opposition is controlling not just the federal parliament, which is a symbolic, of course, event, but also controlling a very significant thing: the television stations here in Belgrade and also Television Serbia, which will be able to allow the opposition to broadcast its version of what is happening here in Belgrade.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Alessio, just to clarify one point, our state department correspondent Andrea Koppel, quoting a senior administration official as saying, the Clinton administration is trying to get in touch with Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, to urge him to come out and say that there should be no runoff election. That it is time for President Milosevic to go, which has been the position of the U.S., Britain and other members of the NATO alliance.

Alessio Vinci, who's been on the front lines reporting this developing story, thank you so much for joining us.

Our coverage of what's happening on the streets of Belgrade, dramatic developments leading up, perhaps, to the end of President Slobodan Milosevic's term in office, perhaps unfolding as we cover these stories.

We are going to continue our coverage of this breaking news story, but for now I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Stay with CNN.



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