BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - Abandoned by his allies, reviled by his people and shadowed by war crimes charges, Yugoslavia's President Slobodan Milosevic bowed to the inevitable last night, conceding defeat to newly elected Vojislav Kostunica.
Milosevic's stunning statement led to cheering among throngs of citizens who claimed the capital as their own, a day after hundreds of thousands took to the streets and stormed the regime's power bases in a desperate bid to drive the dictator from his perch.
"I have just received the official information that Vojislav Kostunica has won the presidential election," the ousted leader said in a brief, surreal television address.
"The decision was made by the state body, which has the constitutional authority to do so, and I believe that this decision must be respected. ... I congratulate Mr. Kostunica on his electoral victory, and I wish much success to all citizens of Yugoslavia."
As for his plans, he said, "I personally intend to rest a bit and spend some more time with my family and especially with my grandson, Marko, and after that to help my party gain force and contribute to the future prosperity."
Apparently, Yugoslavia might not be completely rid of Milosevic, the leader who presided over four wars and the disintegration of his country. His travel options are virtually closed off by his status as an indicted war crimes suspect with a $5 million bounty on his head.
"We are gradually getting back to normal, and I believe the crisis is behind us," said Kostunica, who met with Milo sevic but provided few details.
Kostunica, a soft-spoken, 56-year-old law professor, is expected to form a new government - and perhaps be sworn in as president - as early as today, completing one of the more remarkable chapters in modern Balkan history.
One of the last old-style Communist regimes in Eastern Europe has given way to a new democratic force, as once-squabbling opposition leaders backed a strong candidate and long-suffering people took to the streets to claim their political rights.
In swift order, Milosevic saw his political career turn to shambles as the Russians backed the winner, the military pledged to stay above the fray and Yugoslavia's Constitutional Court, his hand-picked legal body, named Kostunica as the election winner.
The court ruling reversed its disputed decision in which it decreed that a second round of balloting was needed because it said Kostunica had failed to get 50 percent of the Sept. 24 vote.
Opposition forces claimed widespread fraud in the vote counting.
Then, Thursday, the court announced that the election was annulled and Milosevic would remain in office until a new election could be organized.
Yesterday, the speaker of the Serbian parliament, Dragan Tomic, addressed Kostunica as president in a letter. It was the first such recognition by a high official from the Socialist Party of Serbia led by Milosevic.
With pledges of support from the army, with state media calling Kostunica "president" and his supporters ferreting out Milosevic cronies in state institutions, all that's left is a formal inauguration.
Kostunica was putting together a stopgap crisis committee to try to stabilize the country. Somehow he will also have to work with close Milosevic allies, such as powerful Serbian President Milan Milutinovic.
Like Milosevic, Milutinovic was indicted by the international war crimes tribunal for the offensive in Kosovo. Kostunica could come under strong Western pressure to turn over indicted war crimes suspects.
But returning Yugoslavia to normal footing might pose its own problems.
The sanctions and years of Balkan warfare have left the economy in ruins, and last year's 78-day NATO bombardment in response to the Kosovo crackdown hammered already creaky transportation and utility networks.
According to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who met with Milosevic in a Belgrade government building, Milosevic "intends to play a prominent role in the political life of the country."
Speaking with reporters, Ivanov said Milosevic "stressed the importance of solving the crisis through peaceful ways and that the use of force should be avoided."
Ivanov also carried a message from Russia's President Vladimir V. Putin, who "congratulated Mr. Kostunica on his victory in the presidential elections."
Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff Nebojsa Pavkovic said Kostunica will "help overcome all the remaining problems in a civilized way and return the country to normalcy."
Pavkovic said the army would follow its constitutional mandate in carrying out its duties, according to the state-owned news agency, Tanjug.
"Members of the Yugoslav army, strictly respecting constitutional rulings, did not take part in the political struggle, are ready to accept the people's will and all the legitimate decisions of the electoral institutions," he said.
The army said later that conditions were fulfilled for working relations with the new president.