BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Police arrested the leader of Serbia's strongest opposition party Wednesday shortly after more than 1,500 demonstrators clashed with police to protest the ouster of moderate President Dobrica Cosic by ultra-nationalist parties.
Police entered the offices of the Serbian Renewal Party aboout 1 a.m. and arrested party leader Vuk Traskovic, less than 24 hours after Cosic, one of the country's few remaining moderates in the government, was ousted by a secret vote of Parliament led by the ultra-nationalist, right-wing Radical and Socialist parties.
'About 100 to 200 policemen came in and they did not have any search warrant and they arrested about 30 people there, including journalists and cameramen and everybody who was in our head office,' said Radenko Jokovic, Renewal Movement member of the Federal Parliament, on Independent Studio B television.
Jokovic was not arrested because he has immunity as a member of the Federal Parliament, with members representing Serbia and Montenegro, which form the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Members of the Serbian Parliament have no immunity and several were arrested during the raid, Jokovic said.
At least 18 people were injured, including five policemen, in a brief but violent protest about two hours before the arrests.
The protesters converged on the Parliament building after learning that a Radical Party member assaulted a Renewal Movement member on the floor of Parliament following a heated discussion over Cosic and foreign policy.
Word spread quickly after the assault because the sessions are broadcast on state-owned Channel II television.
Police fired shots into the air and used rubber bullets and teargas against rock-throwing protestors who broke windows.
About six square blocks near the center of the city were sealed off after the demonstrators were dispersed. Police patroled the center of the city in armored cars as hundreds of police in riot gear stood by.
The rioting began after a Radical Party member struck and knocked to the floor Renewal Movement member Mihailo Markovic, whose party opposed the way Cosic was removed. The Renewal Movement is a relatively moderate party in a country where all parties are nationalist.
The Serbian-controlled Parliament of the remnants of Yugoslavia voted Tuesday to oust Cosic after a nine-hour session that ended past midnight. The 178 members of the upper and lower chambers of the federal assembly voted secretly 97-44 with 14 abstentions to remove Cosic, 71, from office.
Cosic and his staff declined to make any immediate comment.
The unscheduled vote concluded a four-month effort by the Radical Party to remove the former Communist from power in response to Cosic's attempts to seek peace between warring Serbs, Croats and Muslim Slavs in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Cosic was not present for the debate and vote, which upset many opposition members.
'Even Stalin did not try people without their presence,' said Novak Kilibarda, leader of the People's Party of Montenegro, who tried unsuccessfully to stall the vote until Cosic could speak on his own behalf.
It was widely believed that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was instrumental in Cosic's ouster, as he suspected the former author posed a potential threat to his control of the republic's 150,000 military troops and 50,000-member paramilitary police force.
Milosevic was away from the capital, paying an unannounced visit to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Details of his meeting with President Kiro Gligorov were not released.
The technical argument offered by proponents of the ouster claimed Cosic violated a statute of the constitution by making an appointment to the Supreme Court.
He also was accused of pursuing his own peace initiatives without consulting the Parliament.
Originally nominated as president by Milosevic, Cosic was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Parliament as the federation's first president on June 15, 1992. Cosic at the time outlined his goals of 'peace and the abolition of the (U.N.) sanctions' in his acceptance speech.
The United Nations on May 30, 1992, had imposed economic sanctions, including an oil embargo, on the federation of Serbia and Montenegro for its backing of Bosnian Serb territorial conquests in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
One month after being appointed, Cosic followed the wishes of Milosevic by naming Milan Panic, 63, a Belgrade-born U.S. citizen, as prime minister.
Panic's appointment was relatively short-lived, as parliamentarians exercised their ouster ability, relieving Panic on Dec. 29 through a non-confidence vote.
As with Cosic, Panic was seen as becoming too popular with his plans for peace and economic reform.
Milos Radulovic, 64, chairman of the Chamber of Republics, the upper parliamentary house, will serve as the acting president to replace Cosic.
Any political group with at least 20 sitting members, or a coalition of 1,000 petitioning citizens, can nominate a replacement, which must be voted upon by the Parliament within 30 days.