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Kostunica Says Milosevic 'Cannot Fight the People's Will'Aired October 5, 2000 - 1:13 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: A day unlike any seen in Yugoslavia in more than a decade. We welcome our viewers from the United States, as we continue our coverage of events there. Downtown Belgrade belongs to the people on its streets, who are out in numbers not seen in the 13 years that Slobodan Milosevic has led the country.
Police were in place earlier, but the police response was modest by Yugoslav standards, and now the police have apparently faded away. The crowds who have come out against the regime have taken control of the federal parliament, and smoke was seen earlier pouring out of some of its windows.
There is no signs through all of this, though, of President Slobodan Milosevic. His party did issue a statement both critical, perhaps even ominous, "It is no democracy to destroy electricity, to go wild, and block roads, to stop production," the Socialist Party of Serbia said in that statement, carried by the state news agency. "The Socialist Party of Serbia will, within all institutions and with all its power, fight against violence and destruction and for peaceful life in our country."
Peaceful life in much of the country has been disrupted in recent weeks, as the people of Serbia have risen up against President Slobodan Milosevic. He sought reelection. The election turned against him, even government poll results suggest that he came in second to opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica. Now Kostunica's supporters are in the streets of Belgrade. They have taken control of the federal parliament, and apparently the organs of state communication as well, including state-run television.
The police and the security forces have faded away, an extraordinary development in a country where the media and the security forces have given the government its lock on power.
The pictures you are seeing now were taken earlier in this day, but more than 100,000 people remain in the streets of Belgrade. At last word from our bureau chief, they were listening to Kostunica himself addressing the crowd.
The developments have been watched closely all over the world, nowhere probably more so though than in Washington.
CNN's White House correspondent Major Garrett joins us now from there -- Major. MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jonathan, as dramatic as the developments have been in Belgrade, the White House has tried to monitor them each and every step of the way.
Let me convey to you all of the White House reaction, as we have it here at CNN. First and foremost, later on today, either Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, or the president's national security adviser, Samuel Berger, will attempt to get in touch with high ranking officials with the Russian government, quite possibly Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov, and ask the Russian government specifically to acknowledge the victory that the U.S. and most of the Western world believes Vojislav Kostunica won in earlier election, and to say to the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic to heed that election result.
CNN has learned from multiple U.S. government sources that President Clinton at this moment has no intention of calling Russian President Vladimir Putin directly to convey that message. This message, several sources have told CNN, is to be conveyed at slightly lower levels of the U.S. government, either Secretary of State Madeleine Albright or National Security Adviser Samuel Berger.
Now, Secretary of State Albright is in the air right now, heading back the United States, from a round of Middle East peace talks in Sharm Al-Skeikh, Egypt. She has due to land in Shannon, Ireland for a refueling stop, quit possibly contact could be made there.
CNN has also learned that the president, who is en route to Princeton, New Jersey right now, to deliver a speech on progressive governance will in that speech make additional comments about the situation unfolding in Belgrade. The president has received routine and repeated updates throughout the day. He did not personally see any of the videotape that we've been showing, or any of the live footage that we have been showing for the streets of Belgrade, but did receive regular updates both from National Security Adviser Samuel Berger and other aides.
Also, the White House has said, and the president said today earlier, that he and the Western world stands with the people in Serbia, the opposition who is trying to reclaim its country, trying to preserve the mandate of an election the president said today was valid and should be heeded. But the president also said that if the situation in Belgrade, or any other part of Serbia, turns ugly, that is to say if Mr. Milosevic in any way unleashes military forces against the opposition, that the United States would not intervene militarily to protect the opposition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States stands with people everywhere who are fighting for their freedom. We believe in democracy. I have said before, the opposition candidate who, according to all unbiased reports, clearly won the election, obviously has -- also has strong differences with us.
This is not a question of whether he agrees with us. All we want for the Serbian people is what we want for people everywhere: the right to freely choose their own leaders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GARRETT: Later in that Rose Garden ceremony, the president, and I quote directly, referring to whether or not the United States would involve itself militarily said: "I don't believe it is an appropriate case for military intervention." Jonathan.
MANN: Major, the administration and President Clinton led the Western response, led Western nations in responding to President Milosevic and his policies, even through war, and through military attack. Why the concern, the caution at this hour?
GARRETT: Well, the administration learned from episode involving the liberation of Kosovo and the bombing of Serbia itself that that unified NATO action, though the administration believes it was clearly a success, clearly prevented a widespread human tragedy, and an attempt to genocide, nevertheless, at least in a political sense, for a time being, emboldened and in some ways, strengthened Mr. Milosevic by increasing nationalist tensions against the West and specifically against the United States, which of course led the bombing raids all throughout Serbia, and particularly north of Kosovo.
What the administration has concluded since then, behind-the- scenes, Jonathan, is that it is best for European nations to push this message forward, A, about Mr. Kostunica winning the election, and, B, that Mr. Milosevic should go.
What the administration has done throughout is seconded, and sort of echoed maybe a day later, in a strategic way, what European government said about that election, and about what the fate of Mr. Milosevic -- Jonathan.
MANN: Major Garrett, at the White House, thank you very much -- Fionnuala.
FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there has been international reaction to the events in Belgrade today. And here in London, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, has spoken out publicly about the events in Belgrade.
And for more on that, we are joined now by CNN's Richard Blystone, who is outside the prime minister's residence in London -- Richard.
RICHARD BLYSTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Fionnuala.
Well, Britain, of course, has for a decade or more been one of the most engaged, if not the most engage, European countries in the Balkans, both Bosnia and Kosovo. And the prime minister, just a few minutes ago, promised that Britain would remain engaged after Yugoslavia gets democracy.
He told the Serb people that the past could be forgiven once Serbia is Democratic. Let's hear it from the prime minister.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We've always made it clear that while Milosevic remains in place, it is very difficult for us to help. But we have a process of reconstruction in the Balkans under way. 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 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLYSTONE: So, for the people of Serbia, the hand of friendship to prime minister says is there. The message for Mr. Milosevic was that the verdict of the elections was clear, the verdict from the streets was clear, and the verdict for Mr. Milosevic is clear. In the prime minister's words "Go and go now before any more lives are lost."
Britain, of course, has thousands of troops in the area, both in Bosnia and Kosovo, but the government here has been very loathe to make anything that anybody could construe as a threat of military force. I asked him what message he had for the Yugoslav military, and police, and he replied he hoped and believed that they would take it easy on the demonstrators and honor the democratic process -- Fionnuala.
SWEENEY: All right, CNN's Richard Blystone at Downing Street in Central London -- Jonathan.
MANN: We go back now to Belgrade and our bureau chief there, Alessio Vinci.
Alessio, what is happening?
ALESSIO VINCI, CNN BELGRADE BUREAU CHIEF: Jonathan, Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition leader, has just ended a speech in front of the federal parliament, that same building that was taken over earlier today by opposition supporters. Mr. Kostunica telling a crowd of more than 100,000 people, thank you for your votes. He, Mr. Milosevic, cannot win and fight against the people's will. Peace between Serbia and the world, peace between Serbia and Montenegro.
But he said there are some people in this country, who took Serbia in permanent conflicts. And these are the people who stole our election. Mr. Kostunica all said that for 10 years Mr. Milosevic was not there to face his own people, to talk to them, more and more of his people supporting Mr. Milosevic says are now changing sides. He says that what we see today is history, that's what Mr. Kostunica said, and we don't need either Moscow nor Washington to celebrate that history.
First new Serbia will enter the future with its own new friends. He said, Greece, France, Norway. Serbia is Europe, he said, it is Serbia first. Europe says, it couldn't be without Serbia, we say it is democracy today that happens in Serbia. So certainly a very celebratory speech by Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition leader, who says that he won the elections in the first- round. People here already in the streets calling him the next president of Yugoslavia. We have hot heard from President Milosevic, Slobodan Milosevic here. We haven't heard from him also because, perhaps at this point, he doesn't even have any means to talk to the people because the opposition has taken control.
Also, of State Television, the building was attacked by several protesters earlier today, and our cameraman was there taking some pictures of the building that was then eventually set on fire. We understand that now Serbian Television is off of the air.
The opposition leader also telling us that they were hoping eventually to be able to bring state television back on the air from a different studio outside of Belgrade and finally tell the people of Serbia what is the truth, what is happening here in the capital of Belgrade.
Again, more than 100,000 people here in Belgrade. I must stress that the size of the events earlier today in front of the Serbian parliament, the crowd here is behaving really well. The opposition leaders, through loudspeakers, you may hear them behind me, are appealing for calm. They are saying, don't go around, don't break windows, don't do anything that would provoke any kind of reaction from the police. We've seen so far very little reaction from the police also in trying to protect the federal building that the opposition earlier today stormed.
These pictures that you see now are live. We are seeing really tens of thousands, more than 100,000 I would say people really marching now through the streets of Belgrade. We understand Mr. Kostunica now is walking away from the federal parliament. We don't really know exactly at this point where Mr. Milosevic, we don't even know if he's in Belgrade. However, we know that Kostunica is here, the man who many people already call the next president of Yugoslavia, has addressed his people, has said today, in Serbia, history happened -- Jonathan.
MANN: Alessio, did Mr. Kostunica say what he was going to do next?
VINCI: You know, Jonathan, I think that few people here can really tell what is going to happen next. Few people expected that this would happen today, opposition leaders all along, when they tried to organize this mass demonstrations today, said that there was going to be a peaceful demonstration.
When a few more angry and determined demonstrators decided to storm the parliament few people really believed that they were going to succeed. And when we saw the reaction from the police, people behind those few demonstrators were perhaps assured by the fact that the police, again, like yesterday, when they intervened against the miners did not really use excessive force, and therefore, these events that have unfolded really quickly are taking perhaps the opposition by surprise itself. Mr. Kostunica was supposed to speak hours ago, and as you know, he just managed to speak only 20 minutes ago. Certainly, the opposition now trying to see how perhaps the security forces will react as the day unfolds. I think that right now what the opposition is trying to do is trying to consolidate whatever power it has managed to control, the federal building, the state television.
Certainly Belgrade appears in the hands of the opposition, and now it will be up to them to, first of all, let the rest of Serbia know what is going on here in Belgrade, and see how the rest of the country will react.
It is possible that security forces, and perhaps the army, at this point would no longer respect an order to crash those demonstrations. But it is really too early to say what will happen next. This is a situation that has taken a completely different twist, a complete different direction from what opposition leaders were hoping to achieve today with this large demonstration in downtown Belgrade.
MANN: So the opposition is telling its supporters to behave calmly and lawfully. Any word about the general strike, will that continue?
VINCI: Jonathan, I think that what the opposition supporters will do at this time, they will try just to keep the momentum, keep the people in the streets, keep control of what they have achieved. Certainly, I cannot imagine tomorrow workers going back to work as a regular day.
As Mr. Kostunica said: Today history happened in Serbia. And so what will happen probably tomorrow is we are going to have perhaps the minors going back to work to provide enough power and electricity for the rest of the country. And also we are going to see some of the other workers going back to work, people who are in charge of furnishing -- feeding the country here, and keeping the stores filled with food.
What will probably happen is that the people working for the state institutions or state government or even other pro-Milosevic organizations, I cannot imagine those people going to work tomorrow.
MANN: Belgrade bureau chief Alessio Vinci, thanks very much. Viewers in the United States and around the world will continue to see CNN's extensive coverage of the upheaval in Yugoslavia, though domestic U.S. viewers will return to their regular programming.
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