BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Serbia's main opposition leader Wednesday called on the republic's Marxist government to resign as more than 20,000 protesters held a fifth day of protests and a senior official said the army was seeking authority to impose nationwide 'emergency measures.'
The government of the largest of Yugoslavia's six republics sought anew to defuse the gravest challenge to its power by seeking to accommodate another major demand by protesters, with Police Minister Radmilo Bogdanovic saying he was prepared to resign if the legislature asked him to do so.
But student protesters occupying a major Belgrade intersection since early Monday rejected the gesture, booing calls by Belgrade University student leaders to return to classes and vowing to remain until Bogdanovic submitted an 'irrevocable' resignation.
President Slobodan Milosevic, 49, also met opposition leaders to urge them to call an end to the demonstrations, according to the Tanjug news agency.
Milosevic, who has blamed the crisis on a foreign and internal conspiracy, said the opposition should rely on 'the institutions of the system' and 'stop the solving of political questions outside the People's Assembly so that Belgrade schools, factories and universities should work regularly.'
In a telex to state-run Belgrade Radio, Bogdanovic said he would leave a decision on his future to the 250-member communist-controlled Serbian Assembly, next scheduled to meet March 20.
Demonstrators blamed Bogdanovic for an attempt by police to disperse a massive anti-government rally Saturday that ignited the worst violence in Belgrade since its liberation from Nazi occupiers at the end of World War II in 1945. Two people were killed and scores injured in street battles that led to the deployment of army tanks.
More than 15,000 supporters of the nationalist Serbian Renewal Movement, the republic's main opposition group, cheered as Bogdanovic's resignation offer was read at a rally in central Republic Square.
The party's charismatic leader, Vuk Draskovic, said demonstrations would continue until Milosevic fulfilled all demands by the 10-party United Opposition of Serbia coalition and striking Belgrade University students, more than 8,000 of whom blockaded for a third day nearby Terazije Square and Marshall Tito Street.
'To return peace to Serbian cities, villages, schools, houses and families, they must meet all our demands,' said Draskovic, 44, a former communist and popular author. 'Those who are not ready to fall on their knees in front of e Serbian people, they must step down.'
'The Serbian police fired at the Serbian people. The police minister should resign. The government which has such a minister must step down in entirety. This is my opinion,' Draskovic said.
In addition to Bogdanovic's resignation, the opposition and students called for the release of all those arrested during Saturday's violence. Draskovic said the prisoners, who included his party's vice president, were on a hunger strike.
There was confusion over the entire issue, including exactly how many people were detained and released and to whom the demand applied.
The opposition put the number of those jailed at about 150. Belgrade Deputy Mayor Milorad Babovic said 636 people were arrested during Saturday's violence in Belgrade and when they returned to their hometowns. He said 350 were in custody Wednesday.
The Belgrade City Secretariat for Justice said 108 people had been arrested and sentenced by magistrates. It said 100 of them had their sentences commutted and were freed Wednesday night. A convoy of about 30 taxis carried them from a suburban prison to the rally in the city center.
The Office of the Chief Magistrate of Belgrade said that people held on misdemeanors were being released, but those guilty of more serious crimes, including unauthorized possession of weapons and assaults on police, 'stand no chances of being freed under any pressures because it would be illegal.'
Meanwhile, about 100 reporters of Politika Publishing House, the government's chief newspaper and magazine media, demanded that top editors resign, the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia relinquish editorial control and a massive police contingent leave the downtown building.
And reporters at state-run radio and television in Novi Sad, Serbia's second largest city, called for the dismissals of their top editors and managers. Two radio managers later quit.
On Tuesday, the Serbian government agreed to fire five executives of the government-run media, who were accused of igniting Serbian nationalist fervor against other ethnic groups, particularly rival Croats. It also freed Draskovic.
With these two demands met, the students ended their occupation of downtown Belgrade, which had paralyzed the city which serves as the capital of both Serbia and Yugoslavia.
The protests resumed after national Vice President Stipe Mesic, who also is the representative of the pro-secessionist republic of Croatia, said the army had sought permission to impose unspecified emergency measures nationwide to clamp down on the unrest.
Mesic said the request, made during a crisis session of the presidents of the eight republics, was denied.
The republics of Croatia and Slovenia, which ousted Communists last spring in Yugoslavia's first postwar multi-party polls, want Yugoslavia dissolved into independent republics.
Both repubics fear political and economic domination by Marxist-ruled Serbia and the military's Serbian Communist-dominated high command, both of which advocate maintaining a socialist federation.
The feud has helped contribute to serious tensions among the country's six main ethnic groups of three major religions. Many Yugoslavs for months have feared the friction could lead to civil war or army intervention.