YUGOSLAVIA. Thousands of pupils across Serbia are publicly backing opposition to an increasingly repressive regime
TEENAGERS across Serbia are swelling the ranks of a growing youth opposition movement, Optor-Resistance, despite a crackdown by the regime of president Slobodan Milosevic.
His government has dubbed members of Optor - which started in universities - traitors and terrorists. It is threatening to introduce an anti-terrorism law that could be used against the movement's activists, who are fighting for early, free and fair elections that could oust Milosevic.
In recent weeks police have arrested Optor members, interrogating activists and then releasing them. More than 1,000 schoolchildren are registered members but many more are supporters.
Schoolchildren in around 130 towns and cities across the country are involved in non-violent protests, distributing leaflets and recruiting members.
One schoolgirl protester, beaten by Serbian riot police in the capital Belgrade this week, defiantly pledged to remain active in the movement.
Police beat and kicked Marta Manojlovic, 17, on May 18, as she ran from a baton charge into the town hall. She was among tens of thousands of protesters demonstrating against the silencing of the leading non-government media outlets in Serbia.
Police and demonstrators repeatedly clashed for two nights, following the take-over of opposition radio and television broadcastersin the capital.
Marta became trapped outside the town hall - controlled by the opposition - which the local authorities opened to protesters fleeing police baton charges and tear gas. She was treated in hospital for a 10-centimetre gash to her head which needed six stitches.
"I was not able to run into the town hall, because the tear gas was very strong," she said. "Then a police baton hit me on the shoulder when I was on the steps of
"Every time someone tried to pick me up, the police started to beat them. Then six or seven police just hit and hit me. I didn't make any resistance and I didn't provoke them. It was very strange. I was simply in a kind of shock. Finally I managed to cry out: 'What are you doing? Leave me alone!'"
Marta was the most badly injured that night but remains in Optor and says she will remain active in protests.
"Now we don't have the right to be afraid," she said."We have to show personal courage to bring about a better future."
After the regime began to arrest its members, Optor stopped accepting youngsters who are under 14, but supporters are sometimes younger. One child in primary school was photographed in a school picture wearing the resistance movement's T-shirt.
The school's director in the socialist-controlled town of Leskovac ordered pupils to return all their copies of the photograph, after the regime increased its criticism of the movement.