The Yugoslav opposition plans a weekend of protests and civil disobedience backed by a general strike threat to crank up pressure on President Slobodan Milosevic to quit after he lost crucial elections.
Protests mushroomed across Yugoslavia on Friday as the opposition launched a five-day campaign aimed at forcing Milosevic to drop plans for a second ballot on Oct. 8. He lost the first last Sunday to challenger Vojislav Kostunica.
Opposition leaders say that participating in a second round would play into the hands of Milosevic, alleging that he would defraud them of victory.
Around 20,000 people gathered in the capital on Friday afternoon, well down from the 100,000 one opposition leader had said were needed to properly kick off the campaign, and from the 200,000 who rallied in Belgrade on Wednesday evening.
But in a relatively strong start to the non-violent campaign, students walked out of schools in a string of towns run by the opposition, taxi drivers blocked traffic, workers at several companies went on strike and cinemas and theatres closed in the capital -- Belgrade -- and elsewhere.
Some protesters chanted "He's finished" and "Slobodan -- save Serbia and kill yourself."
"We will continue with the rallies over the weekend and start a general strike on Monday to grind Serbia to a standstill," Zoran Djindjic, an opposition leader, said on Friday.
Outside Belgrade, about 30,000 attended a rally in the town of Kragujevac on Friday evening. The turnout in Cacak, another opposition town, was 15,000; in Nis, it was 20,000.
The opposition has called for an initial five days of protests, but more could follow as Milosevic and his backers have made it clear they will defy pressure to cede power after 13 turbulent years marked by wars, isolation and economic decay.
The opposition wants Milosevic to cancel the runoff vote ordered by the state Election Commission, which claimed Kostunica won over 48 percent of the vote -- just short of a majority.