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Milosevic Dons Mantle of Fiery Opposition

Balkans: Ex-Yugoslav leader is reelected as head of the Socialist Party. He claims that 'paid Western spies' backed 'coup' against him.

November 26, 2000|PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Slobodan Milosevic morphed from fallen tyrant into fiery opposition leader Saturday as he retained control of a Socialist Party as battered as the country it once ruled.

During his first venture into public since an almost bloodless revolution ousted him Oct. 5, Milosevic drove out or shouted down his chief party rivals and then delivered a tirade against Yugoslavia's new leaders, whom he branded as "traitors."

Milosevic told about 2,300 cheering delegates at a party congress that the October uprising was actually "a coup" backed by "paid Western spies." They, he charged, will aid "the extradition of national heroes to the new Gestapo in The Hague," where the United Nations war crimes tribunal has indicted Milosevic and four lieutenants.

Milosevic walked through the conference hall's front door, past a small crowd of supporters and even fewer protesters, one of them a nurse who shouted: "Traitors! Thieves! Your time has passed."

Milosevic ignored her.

The congress reelected Milosevic as party president, confirming him as leader of the opposition against new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, whose popularity is still high despite enormous problems.

Serbia, the dominant of Yugoslavia's two republics, will hold early elections Dec. 23. The Socialists hope to win back voters by blaming Kostunica for Milosevic's legacy of runaway inflation, mounting crime and an escalating conflict along the border with Kosovo, a province of Serbia.

Judging by the latest polls, Milosevic doesn't have a chance of a comeback this soon. But with expectations so low, Milosevic can at least claim a good start if his Socialist Party isn't wiped off the electoral map altogether.

The Democratic Opposition of Serbia, an 18-party alliance that brought Kostunica to power, had 58.7% to just 8% for Milosevic's Socialists in a poll by the respected independent Mark-Plan agency earlier this month.

Asked to name the politician they trust the most, 40.9% of those polled chose Kostunica. He came out way ahead of Milosevic, who placed second with 4.7% support. Kostunica's choice for prime minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic, was fifth with just 2%.

The once omnipotent Socialist Party has suffered several defections, including former party Vice President Zoran Lilic, who quit to form his own party, the Serbian Socialist Democratic Party.

Encouraged by Milosevic's divide-and-rule strategy, Serbia's political parties multiplied like a virus. Politicians have founded 17 parties so far this year, raising the total to 209 parties.

Kostunica is struggling against dissension from some of his own lieutenants, who want him to remove the last of the Milosevic loyalists still wielding power. Those loyalists include Rade Markovic, who heads the secret police, who are suspected of carrying out political assassinations.

He Is Believed to Live in Tito Villa

Milosevic, who is wanted on war crimes charges by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, still has police bodyguards and is believed to be living in a round, four-story villa with a panoramic view of Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia and Serbia.

The villa was built in 1979 for former Yugoslav dictator Marshal Josip Broz Tito, but he never moved in and it served as a public museum displaying gifts from foreign officials. The treasures include 12 teacups made of gold from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and a silver tray from former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.

Slightly more than 49% of people polled here say they want Milosevic to face war crimes charges in a Yugoslav court, not in The Hague, so Kostunica can't afford to let Milosevic off the hook for long. Only 2.5% say Milosevic should be sent to The Hague.

Kostunica is also under pressure from some of his allies to get tougher with separatists in Serbia's sister republic, Montenegro, and in Kosovo, where leaders continue to press for independence, which would end Yugoslavia as a country.

Kostunica Warns of Kosovo Violence

In a letter released Saturday, Kostunica asked for talks with moderate Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, among those who insists on independence. Kostunica warned that the "wave of violence is spreading in Kosovo and from Kosovo."

"It's no use covering up the problem," Kostunica added. "We have to come to grips with it. We should do that as soon as possible. Too much time has already been wasted."

For a year, ethnic Albanian rebels infiltrating from Kosovo have clashed sporadically with Serbian police units, and the conflict intensified last week when the guerrillas advanced farther into Serbian territory and seized police checkpoints.

Four Serbian police officers were reportedly killed in the fighting with the Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac Liberation Army, a small rebel force that wants to unite the mainly ethnic Albanian southern Serbia with an independent Kosovo.

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