BELGRADE, Yugoslavia – After years of keeping Yugoslavs in check with heavily armed police and propagandizing news media, Former President Slobodan Milosevic got a defiant message from his people: It's over.
Having lost control of state-run media — the main pillar of his 13-year rule — Milosevic had no way to spread any message countering the masses in the streets Thursday clamoring for his ouster. The survivor of a career of constant machinations and battles appeared to have finally lost.
Milosevic, 59, began his rise to power by joining the Communist Party after graduating from Belgrade Law School in 1964. He had been born in Pozarevac, an industrial city in central Serbia, and both his mother and father committed suicide in his youth.
The party put him in various business positions, then in 1983 he made a big jump with his appointment as director of a major state-run bank.
Working behind the scenes, he orchestrated the 1987 ouster of his mentor, Serbian Communist Party leader Ivan Stambolic, that put him in charge of the party in Yugoslavia's dominant republic. (Stambolic was abducted in Belgrade last month and has not been seen since.)
Milosevic became Serbia's president in 1989. When his term ended in 1997 and the constitution prevented him from running again, he exploited legal loopholes to have parliament name him president of Yugoslavia.
He tried to manipulate the process again this summer. With his term as Yugoslav president nearing an end, he pushed through a constitutional change in July to permit the election of president by popular vote for up to two 4-year terms.
But his plans were wrecked by the candidacy of opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica, whose personal popularity and integrity touched Yugoslavs grown weary of the wars and other travails brought on them by Milosevic.
The president's attempt to deny Kostunica the victory most people felt he won in the Sept. 24 election set Milosevic on the road to the tumultuous showdown with his people.
Milosevic had been brutal in putting down earlier challenges, calling out army tanks in 1991 to disperse opposition demonstrations. In 1996 and 1997, he used the police and played on divisions within the opposition to emerge strong as ever.
This time, security forces mostly stood aside as protests grew.
Milosevic also used state-run television and newspapers to prop up his regime, exploiting Serb nationalism when Yugoslavia's gradual disintegration began. The message of Serb supremacy fueled wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia — and ultimately in Serbia's Kosovo province.
In all the conflicts, state media hammered out Milosevic's message: The world is united against Serbia and Serbs must resist.
But that message was worn thin by the country's economic distress, caused by international sanctions and economic mismanagement and last year's NATO war against Yugoslavia.