PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- Heavily equipped army troops and riot police enforced strict security measures Friday in anticipation of further unrest by ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia's southeastern Kosovo province, where 24 people have died in riots over autonomy.
Army tanks were dug into the hills around the provincial capital of Pristina and anti-aircraft guns were set up along the road leaving the city in a show of force that has kept the province largely quiet for three days.
Fully outfitted riot police patrolled street corners, checking identity cards and enforcing an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
'I felt when I was down there it's an army of provocation, and if I were an Albanian I would do something about it,' said a diplomat in Belgrade after returning from the area in Yugoslavia's most economically backward region.
Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians rioted last week against constitutional changes that strip the province of much of its autonomy from the Serbian republic. Kosovo, with a population of about 2 million, has 1.8 million ethnic Albanians.
Authorities said they feared a fresh outbreak of violence Saturday, the anniversary of the start of bloody rioting by ethnic Albanians in 1981 at Pristina University. Hundreds were believed killed eight years ago, but the official death toll was nine.
'We have information there are desires for demonstrations, but we do not believe there will be anything serious,' Deputy Interior Minister Rajko Calovic said.
However, one Western diplomat said, 'I'm very pessimistic this will ever stop now.'
The Kosovo Communist Party Central Committee scheduled a meeting for Saturday and expulsions were anticipated.
Authorities raised the official toll in the six days of riots to 24, including two policemen, Calovic said at a news conference Friday.
A total of 124 policemen were wounded, 12 of them seriously, Calovic said. The number of demonstrators wounded was listed at 98, but he said many refused medical treatment.
An Albanian emigre in Brussels said 137 have been killed, and Radio Ljubljana in Slovenia -- the prosperous, liberal northern republic where freedom of the press approaches Western standards -- said its reporters estimated 140 killed based on information from witnesses.
The figures were impossible to confirm, primarly because of a sweeping news blackout. Of the 24 killed, the names and circumstances of only three -- including the policemen -- have been published in the national media.
Kosovo has been in upheaval since July when 100,000 Serbs took to the streets in Novi Sad to demand Kosovo be returned to total Serbian control. Serbians claim Albanian separatists are driving them out of the province and want to merge with neighboring Albania.
Tuesday, the Serbian Parliament formally proclaimed a constitutional amendment that wrests control from the Kosovo provincial administration over the province's police, courts, national defense and cooperation with other countries.
The riots began March 23 when the Kosovo provincial parliament in Pristina approved the constitutional amendments.
Monday, demonstrations turned violent and deadly with protesters assaulting police with firearms.
Calovic said 254 people were scheduled to go to magistrate's court for offenses that draw terms of 40 to 60 days in jail, and 700 private store owners were fined for closing their shops during a general strike in January and February prior to the riots.
Some 49,000 people from 174 enterprises participated in the strike, prompting Yugoslavia's state leadership to impose emergency measures a month ago in the province.
The violence also has cast doubt on the chances new Prime Minister Ante Markovic can implement economic reforms to counter Yugoslavia's inflation rate, which is expected to hit 1,000 percent by the end of the year.
'Kosovo is going to be a running sore in the Yugoslav body politic,' said another veteran diplomat. 'It may make reform impossible.'