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Yugoslav President Quits; Coup by Military Feared : Ethnic conflict: Borisav Jovic resigns after being denied a state of emergency sought by the army.


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Political turmoil consumed Yugoslavia on Friday when federal President Borisav Jovic resigned amid rumblings of civil war, and an ominous military statement raised fears of a coup d'etat.

Prime Minister Ante Markovic was closeted with federal government ministers early today in an effort to stave off an explosion of ethnic hostilities that have been building among Yugoslavia's many nationalities.

Markovic previously threatened to step down if the fractious republics failed to ensure at least minimal functions of the federal government, which faces imminent bankruptcy because the republics have refused to support the ruling center.

But the prime minister's departure would expand the political vacuum created by the resignation of Jovic, opening a broad avenue for intervention by the Serbian-dominated federal army, which has made no secret of its preference for hard-line Communist rule.

Jovic, a Serbian Communist, resigned after failing to persuade the collective presidency he heads to authorize a state of emergency sought by the army.

There appeared no escape from a devastating political clash. Jovic insisted that only martial law could preserve the crumbling Yugoslav federation, but Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said such a move would impose "military dictatorship" and vowed that his republic would respond with a call to arms.

Fears of a military coup escalated after hard-liners in the army command staff stormed out of the third emergency presidential meeting this week.

The military hierarchy issued a statement many interpreted as a signal that it would take matters into its own hands when its proposal for a state of emergency was voted down 5-3, with only the Serbian delegates within the eight-member presidency supporting the action.

Army commanders proposed that "adequate measures be taken to guarantee the prevention of inter-ethnic armed conflicts, civil war and create the conditions necessary for a peaceful democratic settlement of the Yugoslav crisis, based on the law and the constitution," the official Tanjug news agency reported.

"The supreme command staff stressed that it is reviewing the situation created by the non-acceptance of the proposal and measures it will take in this regard," Tanjug said.

Seeking to justify its appeal for emergency action, the army said a grave situation exists in the country and that it is duty-bound to fulfill its role in "safeguarding the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia."

Jovic said he was resigning because opponents within the ruling body were "endeavoring to tie the hands of the Yugoslav People's Army as the last Yugoslav institution which might ensure the conditions for a peaceful and democratic settlement of the crisis."

Tudjman, the Croatian president, accused Jovic and his Serbian allies of plotting to topple freely elected non-Communist governments in other republics.

"A state of emergency would mean civil war in Yugoslavia and constitute a final blow," Tudjman warned. "In the event of a decision on imposing a state of emergency, all legal police forces in the republic would be armed and the government and other state organs would immediately prepare for the defense of peace, sovereignty and the free Croatian state."

Slovenia, which has already proclaimed its independence from the Yugoslav federation, decided Friday against paying its overdue federal expenses "as long as there are threats from the army ranks about the introduction of emergency measures," Slovenian Prime Minister Lojze Peterle said.

The announcement removed what was probably the last hope of immediately easing the Yugoslav financial crisis that has held up military paychecks for weeks.

The 180,000-strong federal army is made up of recruits from throughout Yugoslavia, but the top officer ranks are 70% Serbian and loyal to the Communist doctrine that previously provided them with relatively lavish pay and privilege.

As successive Yugoslav republics voted out communism over the past year, the military strengthened its ties with Serbia, where Communist nationalists won reelection in December.

Serbia and the army were also allied in pressing for preservation of the Yugoslav federation against secessionist movements in Slovenia and Croatia.

The army had previously hinted it might use force to prevent a breakup of the federation that the constitution charges it to protect.

"The country is at a critical stage of disintegration through a policy of fait accompli, without regard either for the country's constitutional order of the national and civic rights of others," Jovic said.

"The supreme command staff of the armed forces maintains that these negative trends must be energetically checked in order to create conditions for intensifying a constructive and democratic dialogue aimed at finding a way out of the economic, political and constitutional crisis in the country," Jovic said.

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