Some 2,000 workers rallied in front of Serbia's legislature and the offices of its Marxist president in one of two protests that underscored the growing economic problems of Yugoslavia's largest republic.
The demonstrations Tuesday came hours after the Communist-controlled legislature adjourned after a heated session during which Serbian Prime Minister Stanko Radmilovic admitted that the republic's coffers were bare, saying, "You cannot squeeze water from dry wood."The assembly, facing a Feb. 5 general strike threat by the republic's major trade unions, went home at 2 a.m. after approving several stopgap measures to raise funds to cover wages for some of the 120,000 state enterprise employees who reportedly have not been paid in the past three to five months.
The measures included raising about $6 million through higher taxes on the few state-controlled firms that are making profits, a bill that prompted warnings by some deputies that it would only guarantee "social peace" for less than two months.
About 5,000 workers in the Belgrade suburb of Zemun walked off their jobs from the Zmej tractor plant, the Ikarus bus works and other area factories in a strike to demand wages owed by the government of President Slobodan Milosevic since November and to express dissatisfaction with the assembly proceedings.
After hearing speeches by their leaders, about 2,000 strikers marched 5 miles into Belgrade, causing traffic jams throughout the center of the city, which serves as both the national and Serbian capital.
Shouting "Thieves" and "We want to live," the workers rallied on Marshal Tito Street, named after the late founder of Communist Yugoslavia, on one side of which is the Serbian Assembly and on the other is Milosevic's offices.
Dragan Veselinovic, a union leader, said the Zemun workers would join the threatened general strike next week if their demand for back wages is not met.