BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Opposition leaders enraged because police beat anti-communist demonstrators demanded Thursday the resignation of the interior minister of Serbia's communist regime and the prosecution of the officers responsible.
Kosta Cavoski, a Serbian Democratic Party leader, said five nationalist opposition groups in Serbia, largest of Yugoslavia's six republics, would shortly announce steps they intend to take to back up their demands.
He also said that the parties had fulfilled a vow to boycott the second round of negotiations Thursday with the ruling communists on reforms permitting multi-party elections in Serbia. The first round of talks was held last week.
Cavoski's comments came during a packed news conference by opposition leaders at Belgrade's House of Youth a day after they sponsored the largest rally ever held to demand an end to 45 years of communist rule in Serbia and the scheduling of polls for the republic's assembly.
Several hours after Wednesday's gathering, police charged and beat dozens of protesters who had gathered in front of the headquarters of state-run Belgrade television, blocking a major roadway and demanding the resignation of the station manager for what they said was his pro-communist bias.
'Nobody from the police asked us to disperse. We were calm and peaceful and planned just to go home when the police came from a side street, charging at us,' said Democratic Party secretary Djurdje Ninkovic. 'We demand that all those responsible for beating the protesters be punished and that the Serbian interior minister resigns.'
The minister, Radmilo Bogdanovic, is in charge of the republic's police force.
Cavoski said two protesters suffered serious injuries. There was no immediate official or independent confirmation of the statement.
Opposition leaders Dragoljub Micunovic and Borislav Pekic were bruised by truncheon blows, said Cavoski.
Serbia is the only republic in the loose federation that has not yet set a date for free elections. The 10 million Serbs are the largest ethnic group in Yugoslavia.
Serbian communists staged polls in November under the existing single-party system that served to strengthen their grip on power. They have agreed to hold multi-party elections after implementing a new constitution, which could take up to two years.
Their failure to set a date for the contests or legalize other parties has fueled charges that they are trying to buy time in a bid to retain power.
Serbia's Communist Party announced Thursday that it would hold on July 12 a special congress at to formally merge with an allied socialist organization. This is seen as a cosmetic move to change its name and image to stem ebbing support ahead of the planned assembly polls.
The federal government plans multi-party elections later this year in what should be the country's first free national polls since the communists took power at the end of World War II in 1945.
Slovenia and Croatia, Yugoslavia's most liberal republics, held their first free elections in April and now have non-communist parliaments and governments.