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  21 Dead in Two Days of Yugoslav Rioting

By Charles T. Powers
Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, March 29, 1989; Page A18

BELGRADE, MARCH 28 -- The death toll in ethnic rioting in the predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo rose to 21 today, with disturbances spreading to more towns as the ethnic Albanians continued to protest increased Serbian control over the region.

Tanks and riot policemen armed with automatic weapons ringed the regional capital of Pristina, where a curfew was in force from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The Serbian state radio in Belgrade reported clashes with the police in Pec, Mitrovica, Lipljan, Podujevo and Magusa. Federal police officials said that Albanians were shooting at the police from rooftops and windows.

At least 18 of the deaths occurred yesterday, the authorities reported. Most were in Pristina, where, they said, the police fired over the protesters' heads and then directly at them.

An 18-year-old man was shot dead today as 500 rioters, many carrying guns, attacked a police station at Zur, a village near the Albanian border, the official news agency Tanjug reported.

While the two days' worth of casualties, including three fatally wounded policemen, were being counted, the Serbian National Assembly was ratifying constitutional changes that will return the province's judiciary and police to Serbian control.

The unanimous passage of the constitutional changes, carried out with high ceremony in Belgrade, brought a holiday atmosphere to the streets of the national capital.

The central streets were blocked off and festooned with banners as Serbs celebrated the culmination of a year-long drive to reassert their control over Kosovo, regarded by most Serbs as the Serbian national heartland, although the 2 million ethnic Albanians living there are 95 percent of its population.

Kosovo is the poorest region in the Yugoslav federation. The federal presidency of this cumbersomely governed federation of six republics and two autonomous provinces may be forced to clamp on a state of emergency in the region to augment the "special measures" already in force.

Kosovo, which is adjacent to Albania, was once a part of Serbia, but was given its status as an autonomous province under a 1974 revision of the Yugoslav constitution, promulgated at the direction of marshal Tito.

The other Yugoslav republics, always wary of Serbia's power in the federation, were happy to go along with the change since it represented a method of checking the Serbs -- with 22 percent of the total population, the largest national group.

In the intervening years, however, the Serbian population in Kosovo has complained that they have been driven out of Kosovo by the rapidly mounting Albanian population. The Serbs are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christians and the Albanians are predominantly Moslem.

The drive by the Serbs to regain control of the region was mounted more than a year ago, largely through the efforts of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian communist party leader.

It gathered force in the Serbian heartland, resulting in a strong challenge last October to the federal communist leadership. At that time Milosevic and his supporters were given the green light to press for the constitutional changes officially enacted today.


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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