Yugoslav authorities announced Thursday that a second round of the presidential election would be held on October 8, a move swiftly rejected as "a joke" by the opposition camp.
The Yugoslav federal electoral commission (SIK) said "final results" of Sunday's polls showed opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica had won 48.96 percent of the vote, while incumbent president Slobodan Milosevic won 38.62 percent, the state agency Tanjug reported.
"Based on this result, the SIK established that neither candidate has won the majority of votes cast," the statement said.
Therefore "in accordance with the law," the run-off between Kostunica and Milosevic will be held on Sunday October 8, it added.
The decision was immediately dismissed as a "joke" by the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), which insisted its candidate Kostunica won an outright victory in the first round of voting.
The DOS claimed that Kostunica garnered 52.5 percent of votes cast Sunday, against only 35 percent for Milosevic.
"This is not a decision but a joke," Zoran Djindjic of the DOS told AFP, hinting at a call for a general strike throughout the country.
"We will call on the people to defend their rights, to put up general resistance and boycott the system, to come out on the streets -- we call for everything to come to a halt until Milosevic goes," Djindjic said.
He vowed there would be "no return to normal life until Milosevic goes, since he has revoked normal life in Serbia".
Western leaders, sensing an opportunity for peace and stability in the Balkans after a decade of bloodshed, weighed in to back the opposition Wednesday, stepping up demands for Milosevic to accept defeat and quit.
US President Bill Clinton intimated that Milosevic may be seeking to steal victory from the opposition and cautioned him to respect the will of the people.
"It certainly appears from a distance that they got a free election and somebody is trying to steal it away from them," Clinton said, pledging US support for the opposition in its standoff with Milosevic.
However Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic accused the West of having "distorted the image and the reality" of the elections in Yugoslavia for its own ends.
Even before the official voting figures were announced, the opposition held a massive "victory" rally in central Belgrade late Wednesday.
At least 200,000 people filled central Belgrade, AFP reporters at the scene estimated, while local media simply put the crowd estimate in the capital at "hundreds of thousands".
Such rallies have become a daily event since Sunday's vote.
Thousands also gathered in the second-largest Serb city of Novi Sad, as well as in Nis, Kraljevo, and Leskovac and dozens of other towns in Serbia.
Kostunica told the Belgrade rally there was "no possible compromise" with Milosevic's regime.
"There will be no second round. The majority of Serbia has shown its will on Sunday. They wanted to steal the elections to bargain the second round," Kostunica said.
Shortly before the official announcement of the voting figures, a DOS representative on the electoral commission, Maja Vasic, told AFP the commission had "decreased the voting body in Yugoslavia," giving the total number of eligible voters at 7.2 million rather than the 7.8 million announced before Sunday's vote.
"They explained that some 300 polling station in the UN-administrated province of Kosovo had either not been opened or the voting materials were not sent to the SIK," Vasic said.
Djindjic said the commission had "included dead souls" from Kosovo on the voters register and had "annulled several hundred thousand votes of alive people in Serbia."
"Milosevic could not find a better way to say good-bye to politics than with such a disgrace," Djindjic said.
"Everyone will laugh when this is published. He has excluded himself from political life with this move."
The official final count gave Kostunica 2,474,392 votes against 1,951,761 votes for Milosevic on a turnout rate of 69.7 percent, the SIK statement said.
Vasic said commission members had refused to explain how Milosevic had obtained 74,000 votes fewer in the final count than in early published partial results.
However, the commission declared that "the elections had been successfully conducted in a fair and democratic atmosphere with no irregularities submitted by polling stations".
Vasic insisted that opposition representatives on the electoral commission were "just told that the results show the run-off would be held, and then they voted 10 to six for it."
Two sick members from the Serbian Radical party were not given sufficient notice to attend the session "since they live out of Belgrade".
The commission has 10 permanent members, all jurists or judges, who were appointed by the outgoing federal parliament, packed with Milosevic's allies, in July, and eight additional members -- two each from the four parties which ran in the polls -- BELGRADE(AFP)
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