The Serbian Supreme Court on Sunday ruled against opposition parties who say President Slobodan Milosevic robbed them of an election victory in Belgrade, a verdict likely to ignite even more determined protests by thousands of demonstrators bent on driving Milosevic from power.
The opposition reported that eight protesters were arrested over the weekend, making 40 in the past week. One of those arrested was badly beaten, opposition officials said.
Even though Serbia's conflict was deepening, it appeared that Milosevic was more likely to be headed for a long struggle of tactics and politics rather than turning police loose on demonstrators.
Radomir Lazarevic, the chief of the Belgrade election commission, told reporters that the Supreme Court had rejected appeals that would have reinstated election victories in Belgrade.
The court did not give reasons for its ruling, Lazarevic said. The Belgrade election commission's appeal dealt only with the capital but did not bode well for appeals of nullifications of other cities' elections.
When the commission appealed on Thursday, the opposition assumed it would give Milosevic an opportunity to defuse the daily protests that regularly bring 100,000 people onto the streets.
They are the largest and most sustained protests against Milosevic since he came to power in 1987.
On Sunday, 100,000 people were on the streets again. Former French culture minister Jack Lang, a member of the European Parliament, lent them their first significant Western support, declaring: "The Serbs are fighting in the name of all peoples who resist dictatorship."
Lazarevic said the election commission would appeal the Serbian Supreme Court ruling to the federal courts of Yugoslavia, the federation of Serbia and small Montenegro.
Milosevic's opponents said the issue was no longer who ran Belgrade, but who ran Serbia.
"What will prevail: The people's determination or Milosevic's patience?" asked Zoran Djindjic, leader of the opposition Democratic Party. "This is an uprising to win democracy. It's no longer important whether he would revoke the decisions which robbed us of our victory."
Vuk Draskovic, another opposition leader, added: "There is just one aim now: resignation of the head of state."
He said Serbs faced a simple choice: dignity or slavery. "We are not ready to be slaves," he said.
Kati Marton, the chairwoman of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said she met Milosevic on Saturday and offered him a proposed statement pledging to allow media to operate freely.
"I handed him that manifesto, which he proceeded to tear up," she said.
She said she took one of the pieces, and wrote in longhand another statement pledging support for freedom of the press in Yugoslavia, which Milosevic signed.
Daily protests in Serbia's second-largest city, Nis, also continued Sunday. The Fonet news agency said about 30,000 people _ including students, taxi drivers, workers and farmers on their tractors _ turned out.
Djindjic predicted that the protests would spread to 50 towns and cities throughout Serbia in the next two weeks, including towns where Milosevic's Socialists have power.
In Nov. 17 runoff local elections, the official electoral commission had announced that a majority of the 110 seats on Belgrade's City Council had been won by the opposition coalition, Zajedno, or Together. Local courts, however, annulled the results in Belgrade as well as other opposition victories.
Djindjic said the court's negative decision apparently meant Milosevic had realized the protests wouldn't dissipate even if he gave in on the elections.
"It became obvious that these protests would not stop if Belgrade was given back to us, and it's also obvious that this protest has defined itself as anti-Milosevic and anti-Communist," Djindjic said.
Milan Komnenic, vice president of Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement, said Supreme Court rulings couldn't change the protesters' motivation.
"Our strength is in our determination," he said.
Some independent unions have pledged to join the protests today. More than half of Serbia's blue-collar workers are on paid leave, and average salaries for those who work are the equivalent of about $100 a month.
So far, individual workers have participated in the street marches, but organized labor has not.
PROTEST ON THE WEB: Students and other protesters in Yugoslavia have set up a site on the Internet's World Wide Web. You can read an open letter of protest to Milosevic, hear the latest news in English from Belgrade's Radio B-92 and look at pictures of tens of thousands of demonstrators filling the streets and offering flowers to police.
Use of the Internet allows the demonstrators to extend their protest beyond the borders of Serbia _ and beyond the grasp of government censors. "The idea was to get around the information blockade," said Predrag Cvetkovic, 21, a computer major and one of the minds behind the Protest of 96 site.
The Web site address is:
http://galeb.etf.bg.ac. yu/tilde protest96/