Both Sides Claim Early Lead in Yugoslav Presidential Vote
Supporters and opponents of Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic were both claiming to be heading for victory as they published conflicting early results Monday from the country's presidential election.
Some 20,000 supporters of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), an umbrella grouping of 18 opposition parties, thronged central Belgrade following Sunday's presidential and legislative elections claiming Milosevic's iron rule was about to end.
"Kill yourself and save Serbia, Slobodan," was the chant, followed by a vocal demand for their new hero, opposition hopeful Vojislav Kostunica.
Senior DOS official Cedomir Jovanovic told reporters that Kostunica had won 57 percent of votes counted in 4,500 of the 10,000 polling stations nationwide.
Milosevic, he said, had garnered just 33 percent support of the votes.
However Yugoslav deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, a Milosevic ally, said the president had a slim lead of 44 percent to 41 percent over Kostunica. Such a result would require a second round of voting.
There are widespread fears that Milosevic will refuse to cede power regardless of the vote result.
In a surprise move, the official Serbian state media quoted early figures showing Kostunica narrowly ahead.
State news agency Tanjug quoted figures from the Serb Radical Party (SRS), saying that Kostunica had 46.85 percent of the vote against 42.79 percent for Milosevic, according to preliminary tallies from 1,040 polling stations.
The SRS has an uneasy relationship with the Socialist Party and the Yugoslav Left, which dominate Milosevic's ruling coalition.
The Yugoslav federal electoral commission maintained an ominous silence, not even releasing turnout figures. An opposition representative on the body told AFP early Monday that everyone had gone home for the night.
The contradictory claims were a source of concern for observers, especially as the polling had been marred by allegations of vote rigging by both sides and the absence of trained international election monitors.
Belgrade had also refused entry to many foreign journalists.
Western capitals have expressed fears that Milosevic will cling on to power regardless.
The Yugoslav government hit back accusing the West of concocting a "plot" to ensure an opposition victory in the poll.
White House officials described the vote as fraught with irregularities and intimidation.
"We are very concerned by the lack of independent media as well as the absence of polling observers throughout this process," White House spokeswoman Nanda Chitre told reporters here.
The European Union, the United States and Russia were consulting late Sunday over the vote, and an EU reaction would be made "rapidly once sufficient elements are known" of the results, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said in Paris.
The Serbian opposition, and an independent poll monitoring group close to the opposition, the Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID), claimed irregularities had taken place in several polling stations, including voters casting ballots without identification, and voters casting several ballots.
The DOS said turnout was 78 percent of the registered 7.8 million voters in Yugoslavia, which comprises Serbia and Montenegro. The ruling parties said it was around 57 percent.
In Montenegro, however, a top official in the Democratic Socialist Party of Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, Miodrag Vukovic, said less than 24 percent of Montenegrins had cast their ballots. The pro-western Montenegrin government had called for a boycott of the election.
A huge NATO armada is gathering in the Mediterranean to send a strong message to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, according to a newspaper report in London Monday.
The biggest NATO armada since the Kosovo war, including 15 ships from Britain, is aimed at dissuading Milosevic from using force to maintain power, The Independent newspaper reported -- BELGRADE (AFP)
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