Yugoslav presidential campaign winds down Main candidates contrasted in style of rallies

December 18, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The war in the Balkans may have reached a critical moment when the campaigns for the Serbian presidency drew nearly 200,000 people to the streets.

With fears of Western military intervention a potent new ingredient in the election, the 10 million residents of what is left of Yugoslavia were presented with two main candidates.

And their radically different platforms were reflected by radically different rallies.

On one side was President Slobodan Milosevic, making no apologies for trying to carve out an independent state linking Serbian population centers all across the former Yugoslavia.

And on the other side was Milan Panic, a Serbian-American businessman, promising to bring the California dream to the former Yugoslavia; he said a Western-style economic paradise is within the reach of troubled Serbia but said the war must be stopped immediately.

Even if the embargo-damaged economy can never be Americanized, Mr. Panic has changed forever Yugoslavia's formerly staid election process.

At yesterday's outdoor rally of the democratic opposition, which official estimates said attracted 150,000 to 200,000 people, Mr. Panic hired an airplane to fly overhead trailing a huge banner; a colorful hot air balloon was tethered just down the street.

Yesterday was the last day of official campaigning before Sunday's vote, since regulations impose a television blackout on electioneering beginning last midnight.

However, as boss of state-controlled TV, Mr. Milosevic can still guarantee himself air time by requiring coverage of his actions as president of Serbia, the republic that drives the policies of former Yugoslavia.

Conventional pre-election wisdom in Belgrade argues that, in a fair balloting, the vote would be divided among seven presidential candidates and allow Mr. Panic to force Mr. Milosevic into a two-way runoff election. A runoff would be held 14 days after Sunday's vote.

Mr. Milosevic made a hauntingly symbolic campaign run yesterday to Kosovo, the Albanian enclave in southern Serbia feared to be the next flash point of the Balkan war. It was Mr. Milosevic who ended Kosovo's internal autonomy with a speech at the exact spot four years ago, when he announced the imposition of martial law from Belgrade.

Mr. Milosevic stopped to speak at Kosovo Plain, site of a 1389 defeat of Serbian forces by the Turks that is a seminal event in the development of Serbian nationalism.

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