Liberation of Kosovo: Serbia - Belgrade clamour to end curbs

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THE YUGOSLAV Federal Parliament will meet on Thursday to vote on demands to end the state of war imposed on the country by President Slobodan Milosevic at the start of the Nato bombing campaign.

Serbia's opposition parties are demanding that the government lift the state of war, which sharply limits personal freedoms and prevents public gatherings.

But because the ending of martial law would pave the way for opposition parties, from democrats to hardline nationalists, to start nationwide strikes and demonstrations that could topple Mr Milosevic, he is expected to try to block the move.

The government announced a week ago martial law would end "within a matter of days" but in the past few days it has said it will happen "soon".

Officially the government has been waiting for the formal end to Nato bombing, but that can no longer be an excuse as the alliance called off the campaign on Sunday.

Serb newspapers are also impatient for a return to "normality" and the end of censorship. Many ordinary Serbs are also calling for an end to additional taxes levied on them under emergency powers to help pay for the war.

Martial law has given Mr Milosevic a critical censorship weapon: the public neither saw nor heard domestic reports on the Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo.

Nor have there been any reports of demands from the Orthodox Church calling for Mr Milosevic's resignation.

The economic chaos caused by the war coupled with unemployment, the demobilisation of soldiers, who have no jobs to go to, and the state's inability to pay its workers are likely to fuel discontent. Coupled with an end to the state of war this could lead to protests.

The state of war extends to Montenegro where up to 15,000 military court cases are pending against men of fighting age who refused to be drafted into the army for the campaign in Kosovo.