With opposition weak, Milosevic seems likely to ride out protests

Demonstrations continue, but early elections unlikely

Peace In Yugoslavia


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- A small group of Yugoslav opposition parties said yesterday that it would call demonstrations this weekend to demand early elections and democratic change.

But Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is considered highly unlikely to call early elections, senior government officials said yesterday. The term of the federal parliament does not expire until 2001 and the Serbian parliament until 2002, while Milosevic's term runs through the spring of 2002.

While Milosevic's political position is considered to be weaker now, after the defeat by NATO in Kosovo, rumors of his removal appear little more than hopes, opposition figures acknowledge.

The Serbian Orthodox Church has called for his resignation; there is unhappiness in the army, which considers itself undefeated in Kosovo; and Serbian refugees from the province held another small protest yesterday in Belgrade, easily broken up by police.

But Milosevic appears to retain a bedrock of popular support -- 20 percent in recent opinion surveys -- and there is no other political figure who comes close to him.

The most popular alternative is an unpredictable former democratic opposition leader, Vuk Draskovic. But Draskovic joined the government, then was booted out, and his political image is considered muddied, said Srbobran Brankovic, a pollster and political scientist.

U.S. officials say they can offer Yugoslav opposition figures little more than advice, moral support and relatively small amounts of aid to independent media outlets, presuming that diplomatic relations are soon restored.

"We're asking the opposition to be an opposition and to aspire to be a government, and to take steps within the constitutional framework to do that," a senior Clinton administration official said yesterday.

"But the help we can provide is limited," the official said. "It's partly moral support and partly advice," as well as isolation of Yugoslavia so long as Milosevic, an indicted war criminal, continues to lead it.

In the winter of 1996-1997, Milosevic waited out huge demonstrations against him led by Draskovic and Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party. But the opposition leaders are now sharp rivals. Milosevic has successfully played off Draskovic against the ultranationalist leader of the Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj, who has agreed not to vote against the government.

Serbs from Kosovo staged a protest in Belgrade yesterday for the second day in a row, but there were more journalists than protesters. After about a half-hour, the police rather politely led off the organizer, Svetozar Fisic, a Democratic Party official from Prizren.

The group called on Milosevic and the United Nations to protect the Serbs of Kosovo, to stop violence by the Kosovo Liberation Army and its supporters, and to treat the refugees with full rights.

Pub Date: 6/22/99

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