Angry anti-US Demonstrations sweep Australia

MELBOURNE, (South News) March 28: Thousands gathered outside the United States consulates in Australia to voice their anger today to protest against the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

6,000 in Melbourne, were complemented by 7,000 in Sydney, 1500 in Perth and 400 in Canberra, burning US flags and pelting police with eggs. Some 300,000 people from the former Yugoslavia, most of them Serbs, live in Australia.

Melbourne demonstrators, waving Yugoslav flags and placards, compared US President Bill Clinton to Hitler, calling him a murderer. Cheers erupted from the crowd when they were told of reports that Serbian forces had downed a NATO plane. The crowd dispersed with no arrests reported.

Some hurled eggs at the St Kilda Road building and listened to speeches denouncing the US and the NATO actions. A spokesman for the Serbian National Council told the crowd: "We are gathered here today to protest against NATO's aggression and bombardment of Yugoslavia."

"Launching bombing raids on a sovereign national is an act of blatant aggression and a act of vandalism," he said.

The protest began by pelting the consulate with eggs and fruit while some young people soon began throwing bricks, heavy bolts and flares. An orthodox prayer service quelled the anger for a brief period but speakers quickly fired the crowd up again.

Michael Vjekovic, the spokesman for the Serbian National Council of Australia, said "launching bombing raids on a sovererign nation is an act of aggression and an act of vandalism".

In Sydney, an estimated 7,000 Serb protesters smashed shop windows, pelted police with chunks of concrete and torched an American flag during a demonstration.

Riot police were called in when demonstrators began throwing lumps of concrete at officers, setting off firecrackers and smashing the windows of a building housing the US Consulate General. A protester scaled two floors of a building in the city centre to rip down an American flag which was later burned by youths standing on a bus shelter.

Protesters, waving Serbian flags and posters depicting US President Bill Clinton as Adolf Hitler, called for Serbia to "defend Kosovo" and for Prime Minister John Howard to stop Australia's support of the air strikes.

The demonstrators marched down the city's main street chanting slogans and waving Serbian flags and banners, two of which read: ``Clinton Hitler Stop War with Serbia,'' and ``Kosovo is Serbian Land.''

They marched on the Sydney Opera House, where Prime Minister John Howard was attending an outdoor function to celebrate Greek national Independence Day. Outnumbered police and security officers tried to hold back the demonstrators as they swarmed up the steps of the Opera House and pushed towards the front row of invited guests.

Howard was booed as took to the stage and was forced to raise his voice above chants of ``Kosovo, Serbia.'' Howard was targeted for supporting the strikes, although Australia is not a NATO country.

``However strong feeling there are on events that are taking place in the former Yugoslavia, can I say that the argument of the NATO countries is not with the people of Serbia but rather the government of Serbia,'' said Howard, to loud booing.

A spokesman for the Serbian National Federation of Australia, Elija Glisic, called on the federal government to stop its support for the NATO action.

"The Australian government should stop their involvement in this conflict and denounce what NATO's doing because it's clearly in violation of international law and conventions," he said. "It doesn't matter where it is in the world, we have an objection to Australia doing this sort of thing - blindly following someone like Clinton in an illegal act," he said.

In Perth more than 1,500 people began throwing eggs, fruit and ink bombs. at the US consulate. The demonstrators were demanding an end to the NATO action against Yugoslavia.

About 50 police, bolstered by mounted troopers, stood between the crowd and the US consulate building.
Other police were inside the building, ready if the demonstrators broke through the police line. Some of the demonstrators wore Serbian and Montenegran national costumes. Many waved signs, including: "NATO is Fascist"; "Clinton is Hitler".

One of the rally's organisers, Vladimir Jovovich, said he understood the crowd's anger. " What's happened all around the world, this is just images of that." he said.

In Canberra, police were pelted with eggs as a crowd of 400 angry Serbs rallied outside the US embassy brandishing placards and calling Clinton "Hitler".

They also called on the Australian government to end its support for the NATO airstrikes. Local Serbs said anger was growing over Australia's support for the attacks.

"We think Australia should be keeping away, they should back off," said Steve Ravovanov, manager of the Serbian Cultural Club. "This is an issue for Serbia alone and the Australian government has no place in it. It is not for them to be backing NATO and the US."

In Adelaide, about 200 people marched in a peaceful protest against the NATO bombing.

Meanwhile in India, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called for a halt in NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia on Sunday and said the crisis over Kosovo should be referred to the United Nations.

``The strikes should be brought to a halt and the matter should be taken to the United Nations without further delay,'' Vajpayee told a news conference in the northern city of Lucknow. He said India would involve the Non-Aligned Movement of developing countries to seek an end to the crisis.

``Since Yugoslavia is a part of the Non-Aligned Movement, I will take up the issue at that forum,'' Vajpayee said. ``I am already in touch with other NAM leaders and we are working out something on this issue.''

India was  in touch with the non-aligned group in New York and NAM (non-aligned movement) chairman South Africa. Earlier on Friday Russia gave NATO's two representatives in Moscow 24 hours to leave the country and cut off all contacts with the alliance because of its bombing of Yugoslavia.