Authorities used force Saturday for the first time in Yugoslavia's growing wave of unrest as protesters staged rallies in a dozen cities and Prime Minister Branko Mikulic pledged to take steps to end his country's economic crisis.
In the largest of the rallies against raging inflation and alleged ethnic discrimination, witnesses said club-swinging riot police charged 30,000 demonstrators in Titograd in the southwestern republic of Montenegro, injuring 10 people.But Lazar Djodjic, the republic's interior minister in charge of law enforcement, said only one person was injured in the clash outside the Montenegrin parliament and denied police had used truncheons to disperse the protesters. He acknowledged that the police wore steel helmets and carried plastic shields.
In the worst economic crisis since the Communists took power in 1945, the nation has been struck by three months of nearly daily unrest by protesters demanding relief from a 200 percent annual inflation rate and a stronger response to alleged ethnic persecution in the embattled Kosovo province in southern Yugoslavia.
Some of the more militant demonstrators have demanded that Mikulic's government resign.
Witnesses said at least 22 demonstrators were arrested Saturday in Titograd. Djodjic, in remarks during a televised meeting in Titograd of the republic's government and party leadership, said 23 people were detained and released "in good health" after several hours of interrogation.
Video footage broadcast on state-run Belgrade Television late Saturday showed police chasing protesters along the streets of Titograd.
The demonstrators, most of whom had camped outside the parliament overnight after staging a huge rally Friday afternoon, demanded the ouster of national and regional party leaders whom they blame for low wages, spiraling inflation and sinking standard of living.
In the national capital of Belgrade, the presidium of the Yugoslav Communist Party, after meeting in special session, expressed support for the Montenegrin authorities' handling of the unrest.
Elsewhere in Montenegro and the neighboring republic of Serbia, crowds ranging from 5,000 to 200,000 people gathered at dozen sites, participants said.
In Niksic, a Montenegrin town 35 miles north of Titograd, 5,000 workers rallied to protest the alleged use of tear gas by police to prevent local residents from traveling to Titograd for the demonstration there.
In the town of Kragujevac in Kosovo, one of two Serbian provinces wracked by unrest, 200,000 people demonstrated in support of minority Serbs and Montenegrins facing alleged persecution at the hands of ethnic Albanian separatists who make up nearly 90 percent of the region's population of 1.7 million. Similar rallies were reported throughout the republic.
The national party's presidium said after its special session that it will meet Wednesday with leaders of Kosovo to discuss the province's ethnic strife.
Massive rallies Thursday led to the resignation of the government and party leadership in Serbia's northeastern Vojvodina province.
Mikulic went on national television to promise that his government will act to ease the country's crushing economic burden.
Mikulic, who did not refer to the recent wave of protests, announced plans to slash taxes and increase imports of basic food products to slow inflation.
Yugoslavia, where a three-month summer drought cut its normal agricultural yield in half, will import $200 million worth of corn, sugar and cooking oil by the end of the year, Mikulic said.
He said the government will also lower its levies on businesses and factories in a policy aimed at sparking production through increased reinvestment.