Belgrade, Yugoslavia — More than 200,000 joyful opponents of Slobodan Milosevic swarmed the capital's downtown district Wednesday, supporting an opposition claim of an electoral triumph over the Yugoslav president.
Hours later, the government early today released final official figures showing that the opposition failed to win enough votes for first round victory in last weekend's election, prompting the opposition to threaten to increase the pressure against the president.
The biggest demonstration ever against Milosevic completely blocked Belgrade's main streets around Republic Square. Much of the downtown area teemed with people waving flags and chanting: "He's finished."
Throughout Serbia, the main Yugoslav republic, thousands streamed into city streets, celebrating what they say was the opposition's stunning triumph in Sunday's presidential and parliamentary elections.
The final voting figures from Sunday's balloting showed that opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica finished first with 46.4 percent of the 5.5 million votes to Milosevic's 38.6 percent, thereby forcing an Oct. 8 runoff.
The opposition as well as President Clinton and other Western leaders had earlier rejected a runoff, saying Kostunica had won more than the required 50 percent of votes cast to win outright.
The announcement, distributed by the state news agency Tanjug, said Kostunica had fallen short of the required majority. The opposition, using figures from its poll watchers, claimed Kostunica won 52.5 percent to Milosevic's 32 percent enough for a first-round victory in the five-candidate field.
Prior to the government announcement, Kostunica told the crowd there will be no runoff.
"If we bargained with them, then we would recognize the lie instead of the truth," Kostunica said. "If we bargain, we would recognize that the will of one man, Slobodan Milosevic, was stronger than the will of the entire nation."
There was quick protest from the opposition to the final voting figures with campaign manager Zoran Djindjic saying protests would go beyond daily marches, which in the past have failed to remove the Milosevic government.
"We will call for a total blockade of the system and institutions," Djindjic told Index radio early today without elaboration.
And opposition member of the electoral commission, Sinisa Nikolic, said the head of the body simply presented delegates with figures late Wednesday without allowing them to inspect the returns.
In New York on Wednesday, former Prime Minister Milan Panic urged Russia, Yugoslavia's traditional ally, to offer Milosevic exile in order to spare the country from civil war. "Otherwise, conflict is almost inevitable," said Panic, who was defeated by Milosevic for the Serbian presidency in December 1992.