As the opposition, led by Vojislav Kostunica, took control of the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, a senior European church official has called for solidarity with Yugoslavia's churches.

Keith Clements, general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, based in Geneva, also called on the international community to prepare to bring to an end the nation's political and economic isolation.

Clements said today: "Now is the time for Christians and churches throughout Europe to pray anew for the people of Yugoslavia, and to manifest their solidarity with the churches of that country during these critical days."

Yugoslavia's President Slobodan Milosevic disappeared from public view October 5 as tens of thousands of people gathered in the capital and crowds seized control of the parliament building, the state broadcasting headquarters, and police stations. Protesters were angry over the government's failure to recognize Kostunica's claim that he was the winner in elections held on September 24.

According to information issued by a Geneva-based church aid network, which co-ordinates aid programs in Yugoslavia, Belgrade is calm this morning. Action by Churches Together (ACT) said that the media, which are no longer controlled by Milosevic, had acknowledged Kostunica as the new Yugoslav leader. Police had stated that they would not interfere with the popular will of the people, and the military had remained in barracks.

In his statement issued today, Clements praised the role in recent days of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which has supported Kostunica's claims to the presidency. The Serbian church is a member of CEC and has major influence within Serb society. In the early 1990s, the church was criticized by several West European churches for supporting the Serb military cause, notably in Bosnia where the church has a number of important places of worship. But in recent years its leaders have been highly critical of Milosevic's government.

Last year, after Nato's bombing campaign over Kosovo, the church called on Milosevic to step down and hand over power to a transitional government.

After last month's elections the church appealed to Kostunica and his followers to "take over the helm of state, its parliament and municipalities, in as peacefully and as dignified a manner as possible". According to the church's information service, the church's leader, Patriarch Pavle, called on the army and the police "to do their utmost so that government could change in a peaceful, dignified and civilized manner, thus preserving their reputation before the people and the whole world."

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"Therefore we invite all the responsible people of good will - those now in power and those who are not - to do their best so that riots do not occur and brotherly blood is not spilt," Patriarch Pavle said.

The church is organizing a prayer service this afternoon in front of St Sava's Cathedral in Belgrade for the "salvation and reconciliation of the Serbian people."

Clements said that the church had "showed great courage when, immediately after the recent presidential elections, it called for recognition of the democratic will of the people in their choice of a new president."

"We must pray that the Serbian Orthodox Church, and all the churches of Yugoslavia, will by God's grace be strengthened to continue to witness to the fundamental values of human dignity, justice and freedom, and so assist in a peaceful transition to a new and democratic Yugoslavia, under a government committed to human rights and in a society based on participation and dialogue," he said.

Clements went on to call on the international community, including the European Union, "to fulfill its promises to end the political and economic isolation of Yugoslavia, and assist in the reconstruction of the country which is suffering so grievously from the effects of political repression, war and economic sanctions".

Other CEC member churches in Yugoslavia include the Evangelical Methodist Church, the Christian Reformed Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Related Elsewhere

Visit the Conference of European Churches homepage.

Read more about the old regime that is in flux at the official Yugoslavian government site.

The BBC offers an excellent overview of shifting tensions and borders in Yugoslavia dating as far back as 1900.

Other media coverage of events in Yugoslavia includes:

Kostunica starts clearing the old guardThe Age (Oct. 10, 2000)

Milosevic's son flees hatredThe Age (Oct. 10, 2000)

Hopeful signs for the new presidentThe Age (Oct. 10, 2000)

New Serb Leader Struggles To Establish Clear AuthorityThe Chicago Tribune (Oct. 9, 2000)

Yugoslav parties agree on December electionsThe Independent (Oct. 9, 2000)

Yugoslavia Ready to Reap 'Democracy Dividend'—Reuters (Oct. 9, 2000)

Yugoslavia looks to the future—BBC (Oct. 8, 2000)

Kostunica sworn in as president of Yugoslavia—CNN (Oct.7, 2000)

Previous Christianity Today articles include:

Orthodox Condemn Milosevic | (October 4, 1999)

Evangelicals Resent Abandonment | (July 12, 1999)

Bridging Kosovo's Deep Divisions | A tiny evangelical minority has a vision for how to overcome the explosive mix of religion and nationalism. (Feb. 8, 1999)