Yugoslav opposition unites to call for early elections

Dwindling street protests unable to oust Milosevic

October 15, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Under pressure from Washington and the fizzling of protests against President Slobodan Milosevic, the weakened democratic opposition in Serbia united yesterday in demanding early elections under the eye of foreign monitors.

In a setback for the Clinton administration, such elections would not remove Milosevic, who was elected in 1997 to a four-year term by the Yugoslav Parliament and controls a government considered unlikely to call parliamentary elections, due next year, before spring.

Yesterday's agreement on conditions follows pressure from Washington on the splintered opposition to unite and some signs that it is pulling together after the disappointment of what one opposition leader, Zoran Djindjic, hoped would be major street protests forcing Milosevic to step down.

The powerful Serbian Renewal Movement, led by Vuk Draskovic, Djindjic's main opposition rival, indicated yesterday that it, too, is gearing up for demonstrations, as Draskovic had promised if the Milosevic government does not grant early elections.

His party leadership demanded early elections on all political levels -- local, Serbian and federal -- before the end of this year and said the municipal assemblies of all 31 Serbian cities and towns controlled by the opposition would rally on one day behind that demand.

The Clinton administration, which earlier shared Djindjic's hopes of large protests forcing Milosevic to resign, has concentrated lately on pushing Draskovic into better cooperation with his opposition rival.

Washington has threatened Draskovic with indictment by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands, for the activities of his short-lived Serbian Guard, a paramilitary group, in Croatia in 1991, officials say.

Draskovic until recently was on the U.S. "visa watch list," which would prevent his traveling to the United States.

U.S. officials say Draskovic has been proved correct with his analysis that rallies would not succeed in ousting Milosevic and that early elections to undermine his power must be the joint opposition goal.

Draskovic also was radicalized, aides say, by what he called an assassination attempt Oct. 3, when a heavy truck swung into his lane and smashed into his car, killing his brother-in-law, then hit the car of his three bodyguards, killing them.

The police have not found the driver of the truck.

However much Draskovic and his influential wife, Danica, despise Djindjic, an aide said, "they both know that they would never try to kill one another."

The Serbian deputy prime minister, ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj, said Wednesday that "it is obvious there will be no elections before the spring." He acknowledged that Serbs are unhappy with their government but said the opposition is no substitute.

"The people are justly angry with the authorities in Serbia," Seselj told a private Nis television station. "But there is no alternative. We are the way we are, and there are no better ones in Serbia."

Pub Date: 10/15/99

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