West puts pressure on Milosevic

38


BELGRADE, Reuters

The West put pressure on President Slobodan Milosevic on Monday to accept defeat in Yugoslavia’s presidential election but his backers insisted their man had triumphed.

Germany, Britain, Italy, France and the European Union all declared Milosevic had lost in Sunday’s vote, which the main opposition candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, said had delivered him a resounding “people’s victory.”

The United States said it doubted Milosevic could make any “credible claim of victory”, adding that reliable information suggested the opposition “has done very well.”

But Milosevic’s Socialist Party said their leader had 45 percent, compared with 40 percent for Kostunica after 37 percent of the vote was counted.

Serbia’s main opposition bloc said that, with results from half the polling stations counted, 55 percent of the presidential vote had gone to Kostunica with 34 percent for Milosevic.

“This is a peoples’ victory,” Kostunica declared.

The ultra-nationalist Radical Party, once part of the ruling coalition and with a wide network of officials for data collection, also put Kostunica far ahead, by 54.86 to 36.2 percent, based on results from over half the polling stations.

The party also put the Democratic Opposition of Serbia bloc well ahead in the parliamentary poll, giving them 47.91 percent of the vote.

Turnout appeared to have been high, at above 70 percent, which analysts said would benefit the opposition.

Yugoslavs expressed hope that change was in the air after 13 years of Milosevic’s iron-fisted rule.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed Yugoslav voters appeared to have voted for democratic change in the elections.

Schroeder also said after talks in Moscow that the election could serve as a “stabilizing factor” in the Balkans.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the opposition had won not only the presidency but also the parliament.

Even Montenegro, now run by a pro-Western government, said Milosevic had lost and it was time for him to go.

And Milosevic’s one-time top general Momcilo Perisic, now an opponent, called for an opposition victory rally in Belgrade on Monday night. He urged the army and the police to show restraint “and protect the people’s will”.

Fears that violence would be stoked to provide an excuse for a clampdown proved unjustified on Sunday as rival opposition and government rallies passed off peacefully in major cities. But tension was growing in anticipation of Mondays planned rallies.

The chorus of calls for Milosevic to accept defeat seemed orchestrated to forestall the massive vote rigging that Western powers warned to expect if Milosevic felt threatened.

The European Union said in a joint statement released by current EU president France that any claim from Milosevic that he had won Sunday’s election would be a fraud. France said the anti Milosevic trend was unstoppable.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which was barred from vetting the poll, said all available information pointed to a clear lead for Kostunica.

“Claims of victory by pro-Milosevic forces are not credible,” OSCE Chairman and Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero Waldner said in a statement issued in Vienna.

In an earlier, even more forthright, comment British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said: “Today Milosevic is a beaten, broken-backed president. My message to him today is: Be honest with your people. Get out of the way and let Serbia get out of the prison you have turned it into.”