About 40,000 ethnic Albanians in the republic of Serbia refused to work on Friday in support of striking miners protesting ethnic discrimination and demanding the resignation of a provincial Communist Party chief, state-run media said.
Yugoslav Communist Party leader Stipe Suvar spent three hours 3,000 feet underground in a futile meeting with strikers at the Trepca lead, zinc and silver mine in the autonomous Kosovo province.
Although he would not comment on the meeting, sources said he had been told by Aziz Abrasi, the director of the mine, that the strikers said, "You can have us out only in our coffins."
More than 1,300 ethnic Albanian miners, some of whom are also on a hunger strike, have refused to leave the mines since Monday.
No Right to Issue Ultimatums
Later Friday, Suvar met with management at the mine, located in Mitrovica, which lies just north of Pristina, the provincial capital. State-run media said he told the officials that "nobody, not even the miners, have a right to issue political ultimatums to the country."
Throughout the province, schools and most businesses closed, and the official Tanjug news agency described the region as "on the verge of a general strike and total paralysis."
The state-run media said 40,000 people staged sympathy strikes across the southeastern province, which borders Albania. About 1.8 million ethnic Albanians and 200,000 Serbs and Montenegrins live in Kosovo.
The protesters condemn Serbia's drive to secure greater control over Kosovo by changing the current constitution, fearing they would lose autonomy granted to them in 1974. They also demand the resignation of provincial party leader Rahman Morina, whom they consider an ally of Serbian Communist Party chief Slobodan Milosevic.
Serbian leaders have asserted that they must have more control in Kosovo to protect the mainly Christian Slav minority allegedly persecuted by predominantly Muslim ethnic Albanians.
Suvar, 52, accompanied by Milosevic, later flew to Pristina to help ease the tension by reassuring the protesters that changes in the Serbian constitution will not violate their rights.
In late November, about 10,000 ethnic Albanians took to the streets in Pristina for five days of demonstrations in support of two Kosovo ethnic Albanian leaders, Azem Vlasi and Kacusa Jasari, who they said were dismissed under the Serbian Communist Party leadership's pressure.