More than 90,000 ethnic Albanians rallied throughout Kosovo province Friday to protest the forced resignations of two provincial leaders, and officials warned the demonstrators to go home.
The rally in Pristina, capital of Kosovo province, was estimated by the state news agency Tanjug at 70,000, making it the largest demonstration ever in Kosovo.At least 22,000 other people gathered for rallies in other Kosovo towns to protest also the continuing pressure from the Serbian republic for more control over its restive southern province, Belgrade radio and television reported.
The protests set off a flurry of meetings and warnings by provincial and federal officials in this communist country.
Kosovo's acting Communist Party President Remzi Koljgeci, an ethnic Albanian, spokeon Pristina radio late Friday, telling demonstrators to disperse or "we will be forced to undertake all measures available under the constitution." He did not elaborate.
After his appeal, crowds began to break up in Pristina.
Stefan Korosec, secretary of the powerful national Central Committee, made a similar appeal on national radio and television. But he did not make any threats.
Korosec and Interior Minister Dobroslav Culafic, head of Yugoslavia's police forces, traveled to the province Friday to try to quell the unrest, news reports said.
State television appealed to ethnic Albanians, who were descending on Pristina for official celebrations Saturday of the city's 1944 liberation from the Nazis, to stay away. It said the situation was "deteriorating."
Witnesses said at least 20 trucks filled with riot police were seen moving toward Pristina, indicating a crackdown might be imminent.
The national Communist Party's ruling Politburo met in emergency session Friday evening to discuss the protests.
Kosovo's leaders discussed the possibility of "emergency measures ... in case the so far peaceful protests turn into riots," an informed source close to the leadership told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
Protesters held thousands of portraits of the late Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito, who signed the 1974 constitution granting Kosovo wide autonomy.
"We don't want changes of Tito's constitution!" the protesters chanted in Albanian. "We will give our lives, but we will not give up Kosovo!"