West presses Milosevic to yield to vote

`Massive' turnout signals desire for change, experts say

`A vote for democracy'

Regime is silent as opposition rallies in streets

September 26, 2000|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - As opponents of Slobodan Milosevic flooded the streets of Belgrade yesterday, Western nations declared the Serbian leader the loser in Yugoslavia's presidential elections and called on him to yield power to opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica.

Encouraged by signs that Milosevic's iron grip on power was slipping, the United States, Britain, the European Union and other nations said polling results and the large voter turnout clearly showed Yugoslavs' wish for a change in government.

"Despite the muddled situation and the delayed vote count, a few facts are becoming clear," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "There was a massive turnout. There was a massive, unprecedented effort at fraud by the authorities. And the popular vote was a vote for democracy."

In Belgrade, up to 40,000 people gathered in the main square for what the organizers called a farewell concert for Milosevic's ruling coalition.

"We came to celebrate victory against Milosevic. He is finished, he will leave, he must," said Ljiljana Djuretanovic, 32, among the happy, singing crowd. "We waited for 10 years. We lost so much, it's finally happened."

Large rallies were staged in other major cities, with no reports of the clashes with police that had been feared before Sunday's presidential and parliamentary elections.

Other nations calling for Milosevic to concede victory to Kostunica included Germany, France, Norway and Austria. Even Italy, which has been more sympathetic toward the Yugoslav regime than some other European nations, joined what was apparently a well-coordinated verbal salvo against Milosevic. Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said "disastrous consequences" would ensue if Milosevic tried to claim victory.

The international clamor was intended to forestall attempts by Milosevic to steal the election through fraud and to encourage Serbs to engineer his exit, Balkans specialists said. The lack of an official result more than 24 hours after the polls closed on Sunday suggested that the Belgrade regime was teetering and unsure of its next move, analysts said.

"There are welcome signs that Milosevic may not have as complete control over the situation as he would have liked," said Ivo Daalder, a Balkans specialist at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "There's a lot of jockeying going on, a lot of turmoil. The outcome that we thought was most likely - that Milosevic would steal the election in the first round - is now the least likely."

Poll numbers differ

Milosevic's Socialist Party said their leader was winning the election, with 37 percent of the vote counted. Milosevic had 45 percent of the vote, compared with 40 percent for Kostunica, the party said.

"It clearly shows a tendency, that we be optimistic about the rest of the results and the probability that our candidate, Slobodan Milosevic, will win in the first round," said Gorica Gajevic, secretary general of the Socialist Party.

Gajevic said preliminary results showed Milosovic's ruling coalition heading for an absolute majority in both houses of the federal parliament but set to lose control of some towns and cities in local elections also held Sunday.

Zoran Djindjic, coordinator of the main opposition bloc, said that with results in from 60 percent of the polling stations, Kostunica had 55 percent of the presidential vote and Milosevic about 36 percent. Djindjic said the governing coalition's strategy appeared to be to try to force a runoff, giving it a second chance for victory, but he insisted that the maneuver would fail.

There was no word from Milosevic on the election, with fears persisting that the authorities would declare victory for their candidate and resort to violence to retain their hold on power. Nor was there any sign of official results more than 24 hours after polls closed, and there was little indication that the state-run Federal Electoral Commission was hurrying its work.

Opposition monitors posted in the building said the body did not seem to be processing the results publicly, raising fears of fraud. Ceda Jovanovic, head of the main opposition bloc's election headquarters, called on the commission to get to work. But according to some experts, the law allows the commission until Thursday to produce official results.

`A people's victory'

Asked what he would do if Milosevic did not recognize an opposition victory, Kostunica said that he would not give up but that he does not support violence.

"The numbers speak for us," said Kostunica, a 56-year-old law professor. "We will fight in democratic ways. The truth is our strongest weapon. We don't want to provoke internal tensions and foreign intervention. This is a people's victory."

At least two signs emerged yesterday suggesting that Milosevic's hold on power is shaky even among longstanding supporters.

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