Govt stops Serb independent radio broadcasts

Yugoslavian government officials last Friday took control of the country's only remaining independent radio station, B92.

But the Belgrade-based station's former staff have vowed to fight on for their right to broadcast. "Struggle continues. We shall never surrender," said a statement posted on B92's Web site last week.

B92 had been sending uncensored English news reports via the Internet since the start of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) air strikes against Yugoslavia last month. Its regular radio broadcasts were hindered after government authorities seized the station's transmitter and detained its chief editor, Veran Matic, on March 24. Local radio stations across Europe had been re-broadcasting B92's audio signal from the Internet.

But now even its Internet broadcasts have been silenced, according to B92. In the early morning hours on April 2, police officers sealed the station's offices, and ordered all staff to cease work and leave the premises immediately.

The station's manager, Sasa Mirkovic, was dismissed by order of the government-controlled Council of Youth, and replaced with Aleksandar Nikacevic, B92 said, changing the independent status of the station. B92 is taking legal action against the Council of Youth's action to replace B92's director, it said.

B92's staff showed up for work on April 5, as ordered by B92's new director. They were told to come back at noon, and when they returned, each of 39 staff members was ushered into a separate meeting with Nikacevic.

B92's Web site featuring its Internet broadcasts - made possible via Real Networks' Real Player software - had attracted some 15 million visitors since March 26, according to XS4ALL, a Dutch service provider which has put in place a special Web site in support of B92. Sites like those provided by XS4ALL have also reported receiving 16,000 visitors per day.

The former editor of B92 has nonetheless condemned NATO air strikes, which NATO says are designed to stop Serbian aggression against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

"The air strikes against Yugoslavia were supposed to stop the (Slobodan) Milosevic war machine. In fact the bombing has jeopardised the lives of 10.5 million people and unleashed an attack on the fledgling forces of democracy in Kosovo and Serbia," said B92's Matic in a statement last week.

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