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Yugoslavians protest economic conditions

By NESHO DJURIC

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- About 40,000 workers and students marched Tuesday in the southern republic of Montenegro, demanding food, jobs and the resignation of leaders unable to cope with Yugolsavia's worst economic crisis in decades.

Witnesses said the protesters gathered in front of the republic's parliament building in the Montenegro capital of Titograd and chanted such slogans as 'We want resignations,' 'People are starving,' and 'We want bread and work.'

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It was the first mass protest in Yugoslavia since Prime Minister Branko Mikulic's government collapsed last month because of its failure to halt the economic crisis.

It also resembled the massive anti-government demonstrations of last October that resulted in 15 injuries, 35 arrests, a 15-day police alert to prevent riots and the resignation of the republic's government.

Officials said there were no incidents in the latest protest.

'The demonstrations are peaceful. There has been no incidents, nor violence,' Dragan Ilic, the assistant information minister of the republic, told United Press International in a telephone interview from Titograd.

'Members of the organizing committee of this protest rally submitted their demands for the resignation of the local Montenegrin leaders as well as of those representing Montenegro in top Yugoslav federal bodies,' Ilic said.

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A caretaker government is still in office in the republic and a new Cabinet is expected to be elected this month.

About 1,500 workers in Titograd's Radoje Dakic construction machines factory began Tuesday's movement. They went on strike at 7 a.m. to protest economic conditions and one hour later began marching to the Montenegrin parliament building in downtown Titograd.

They were joined by tens of thousands of workers from other factories and offices and university students who skipped their classes, witnesses said. The crowd was estimated at 40,000.

Members of the rally's organizing committee said they want the resignation of government and Communist Party leaders as they originally asked in street demonstrations last Oct. 7-8.

Yugoslavia is suffering from triple-digit inflation and sharply declining living standards that have sent the nation into its worst economic crisis since recovery began after World War II.

Yugoslavia is also burdened with some $21 billion in debts to Western creditors and unemployment of about 1.2 million people, more than 15 percent of the work force.

Protests over the downward spiral and ethnic unrest shook the nation's federation of six republics last year. According to trade union officials, nearly 400,000 people participated in some 1,800 strikes throughout Yugoslavia in 1988.

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Yugoslavia's government has been run by a coalition since the death of President Josip Broz Tito in May 1980. The presidency has rotated among leaders of the six republics, contributing to bickering over economic policy.

On Dec. 30, Mikulic and his 28-member Cabinet resigned because of the economic crisis. When he took office in May 1986, the annual inflation rate was already 90 percent. It now exceeds 250 percent.

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