MON, 19 JAN 1998 21:14:44 GMT
AIM Podgorica, 15 January, 1998
After nine years spent in power, Momir Bulatovic, the president of the Republic until 14 January, ingloriously ended his presidential mandate. Handing over power to the people (and not to the newly elected president Milo Djukanovic) spectacularly announced by Bulatovic during the three-day protest, turned into a classical attempt of a coup d'etat. The streets of Podgorica were last night the scene of a violent clash between several thousand demonstrators and Montenegrin police. According to the statement of Filip Vujanovic, minister of internal affairs of Montenegro, during the riots in the street, the demonstrators shot at the police from automatic weapons several times, and a few explosive devices were used. Fifty citizens were wounded in the conflict, 45 of which are policemen, but the lives of all of them are not threatened.
The decision about the attempt to seize power was made last night, after unsuccessful negotiations of the organization committee of the protest, and after, also unsuccessful, mediation of federal prime minister Radoje Kontic. Although during the three-day protests of supporters of Momir Bulatovic and Bozidar Bojovic it was possible to feel impatience and a wish to prevent Djuranovic's inauguration by force, hardly anybody believed that the political crisis in Montenegro really could turn into a bloody conflict which brought this Republic in the night between 14 and 15 January on the verge of a civil war. But, on Monday around 18.00 hours, from the stairs of the building of the assembly of Montenegro, the former president of the Republic addressed the demontsrators with an ardent speech aimed against Montenegrin authorities and called the gathered people to go for a "peaceful" walk to the building of the Montenegrin government.
The events that followed resembled anything but a "peaceful walk". That is how the march to the Montenegrin state institutions began. At the head of the march was Bulatovic himself, vice chairman of the parliament Zizic, Dr Bojovic... In front of the building of the government, the demonstrators showered the police guarding the premises with stones, and an automatic rifle was snatched away from a policeman. Strong police forces responded by throwing tear gas which forced the enraged mob to withdraw. Everything that happened afterwards resembled the developments in Sarajevo on the eve of the war. At one moment a few thousand protesters put up a barrickade - using vehicles, containers, prepared logs - at the very heart of the city, just in front of the building of the Montenegrin assembly. The more radical ones set cars on fire, broke shop windows, looted the nearby stores... According to unconfirmed news agency sources, groups of demonstrators gathered around the military barracks downtown Podgorica demanding from the soldiers to give them weapons. There are no data based on which it could be concluded at this moment that the soldiers actually distributed weapons, although a part of the demonstrators were armed with automatic rifles. A bomb was thrown at the cordon of policemen who approached the barrickades and wounded thirty odd policemen, four of them seriously. Sporadic shooting in different parts of the city also started.
Only four hours later and numerous interventions, somewhere around midnight, the police managed to break the barrickade with combat vehicles and this practically marked the end of the organized resistance of Bulatovic's supporters. Early in the morning, TV Montenegro carried a statement of the head of the Security Centre of Podgorica, Goran Zugic, by which gatherings of Bulatovic's supporters were banned.
Certain details from the thunderous night in Podgorica cause suspicion that the incidents were expected - planned in advance by the organizers of the protest. Suspicion that this is true was roused by statements of men from the very top of the political group gathered around Momir Bulatovic. While the protest still lasted, Reuters reported that Momcilo Stojanovic, advisor of Momir Bulatovic for public relations and Zoran Celebic, head of his office, resigned in the organization committee. They explained withdrawal from the committee by the fact that Bulatovic headquarters had planned causing incidents which would create conditions for proclaiming a state of emergency. Apart from their statements, suspicions about planned disorders is roused also by the way the leaders of the protest, Momir Bulatovic and Bozidar Bojovic acted. Instead to continue negotiations they suddenly, by their hotheated speeches motivated the demonstrators to move quickly putting themselves at the head of the march. It is interesting, however, that in front of the building of the government, Bulatovic suddenly disappeared without a trace. In the meantime, as if by agreed command, the column of demonstrators split into two groups which simultaneously tried to enter the building despite numerous police warnings. It is expected that the days which lay ahead will soon illuminate many strange developments of the past night in the capital of the Republic. The role of Belgrade in the past developments in Montenegro will also be clarified. It is believed in Podgorica that the regime from Belgrade is without any doubt in the background of these events. This morning's statement of Robert Gelbard testifies about it, since he accused Momir Bulatovic for stimulating disorders, but also Slobodan Milosevic. This statement was received by the Montenegrin leadership with a consuderable dose of relief as proof of very specific pressure exerted by the international community to pacify the situation in Montenegro.
Immediately after the riots, Montenegrin authorities started intensive diplomatic activity. Foreign minister of Montenegro, in early nmorning hours sent a letter to addresses of several western governments and Russia in which he warned against Bulatovic's attempt to overthrow legal authorities which led to destabilization of the country.
Simultaneously with diplomatic moves, the executive power is taking intensive measures to put the situation under full control. Immediately after midnight, the police started to arrest members of the organization committee. According to information of the Montenegrin Ministry of Internal Affairs, since Thursday noon, 12 persons were arrested who, according to the words of Vuk Boskovic, deputy head of Podgorica Security Centre, are suspected of having shot at the police. Among them is Emilo Labudovic, spokesman of the party of Momir Bulatovic and former editor of the news program of TV Montenegro.
Riots in Montenegro were condemned by all parliamentary parties in this Republic the very next day. Novak Kilibarda, president of the National Party, called all Montenegrin citizens not to be tricked by further provocations, sharply criticising Bulatovic's behavior, as well as the moves of Bozidar Bojovic, who was just until recently his party colleague. Representatives of the Liberal Union, Party of Democratic Action, Democratic Party...
From the ranks of the political group of Momir Bulatovic, only Predrag Bulatovic reacted, and sent word to his supporters in a statement to Podgorica daily Vijesti not to continue with escalation of the conflict and to "accept the situation peacefully and sensibly". Bulatovic's repentant statement resembles proclamation of capitulation. Indeed, by radicalization of the political protest, within just a few hours, from an unquestioned national leader, Momir Bulatovic became a political loser. On the same assembly stairs from which nine years ago - at the time of the anti-bureaucratic revolution - he triumphantly entered the world of politics, Momir Bulatovic seems to have rounded off his political life. At the moment, sources in Podgorica say, he is in his apartment. His bodyguards handed in their small arms and put themselves at the disposal of the Ministry of the interior of Montenegro. With no escorts, car, office and privileges he enjoyed, Bulatovic is waiting to see whether, as an ordinary citizen, the hand of justice will reach him and whether he will be called to answer for violence he initiated. While in Cetinje, in the historical Bishop's Palace, in the presence of the diplomatic corps, republican assembly deputies, numerous journalists, Milo Djukanovic is taking oath as the new president of Montenegro, Momir Bulatovic is spending time as the loneliest man in Montenegro.