Fears Mount that Milosevic will Stay on Regardless of Vote Result
Fears were mounting ahead of Sunday's elections in Yugoslavia that President Slobodan Milosevic is planning to hang on to power regardless of the result at the ballot box.
European Union Foreign Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, said in Zagreb Friday that he suspected Milosevic, trailing in the opinion polls, would not accept an unfavorable election result.
"While many of us believe that the overwhelming majority in Serbia want the long night represented by Milosevic's regime to come to an end, I am not sure that that is a view entirely held by Mr Milosevic," Patten told journalists.
Western fears of Milosevic shenanigans were backed by legal experts who warned that constitutional reforms adopted here in July did not specify a timetable for an incumbent president to step down.
Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic said that Milosevic would complete his current four-year term regardless of the outcome of Sunday's vote.
"No matter what the electoral results are, the Yugoslav president has a mandate until July next year," Bulatovic said in a statement.
Vojislav Kostunica, the main opposition challenger for the presidency, poured scorn on the announcement, saying it proved that the Belgrade regime had been seized by panic.
"It shows once again some sort of fear or panic in the ranks" of Milosevic's Socialist party, Kostunica said.
The announcement "has nothing to do with either the constitution or common sense," he added.
Kostunica, candidate for the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), which groups together 18 opposition parties, is ahead of Milosevic according to all opinion polls.
Following commments Thursday by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that Milosevic would do all he could to steal the election, Europe kept up pressure on the embattled Yugoslav president Friday.
The European Union, which has already called on the Yugoslav electorate to vote Milosevic out of office, announced that Belgrade had refused to allow a delegation of EU deputies to observe the elections.
"Under these conditions, their mission cannot take place. The EU will draw its own conclusions," a statement from the French foreign minister said. France currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Friday he had not the slightest doubt that Kostunica would win the presidential election.
"Yugoslav citizens who believe in liberty and democracy, need to do everything in their power to support the winners and make it impossible, or near impossible for Milosevic to steal this election," Solana said in an interview published by Spanish daily El Pais.
Solana was secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), when it led a multi-national bombing campaign of Yugoslavia in 1999.
Many Serbs from both sides of the political fence object to the Western stance, which they see as blatant interference in internal Yugoslav affairs.
The Milosevic camp meanwhile remained defiant.
"We will not take lectures in democracy from anybody. I have no doubts about our victory," Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic told Friday's edition of the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Milosevic was elected by the federal parliament in July 1997, for a non-renewable four-year mandate.
But constitutional changes, adopted in July and described as "illegal" by Montenegro, Serbia's junior partner in the Yugoslav federation, allowed him to seek another four-year mandate.
The September 24 poll will be the first time more than 7.8 million voters in Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo have had the chance to elect their president by popular vote.
To win the presidency legitimately Milosevic needs to win over half the votes cast Sunday.
A second run-off round would be held two weeks after the first vote, if no candidate won an overall majority.
The top body of the Serbian Orthodox Church on Friday urged all Yugoslav political parties to act with democratic spirit and accept the results of Sunday's elections and prevent bloodshed.
Legislative elections will be held alongside the presidential vote on Sunday -- BELGRADE (AFP)
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