Milosevic's grip on endangered Serbian voters

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The Independent Online
SERBIA was heading into a period of political turbulence last night, as it appeared that the ruling Socialists, led by President Slobodan Milosevic, would fail to win a majority of seats in parliament.

First results suggested that the Socialists would remain the biggest party in the 250-seat chamber, and might even improve on their previous tally of 101 seats. But an assortment of ultra-nationalist and centrist parties opposed to Mr Milosevic looked set to win the rest of the seats.

This left a question mark over who would be able to form the next government; Mr Milosevic called the election with the aim of winning an absolute majority for the Socialists.

The President himself was not up for re- election, but a victory in the voting for a new parliament by forces opposed to his Socialist Party could mean the beginning of the end of his six-year rule over former Yugoslavia's 10 million Serbs.

The Depos coalition of Mr Milosevic's most fiery opponent, Vuk Draskovic, last night claimed that its bloc would emerge as the second largest force in Serbia. 'In Belgrade the opposition parties are beating the Socialists three-to-one,' claimed Depos's vice-president, Ivan Kovacevic.

Opposition leaders have threatened to scrap most of the power Mr Milosevic wields if they win a majority in parliament. They have promised to open up secret files on Serbia's role in the fighting in Bosnia and Croatia; Mr Milosevic is demanding the lifting of international sanctions on the ground that Serbia had no role in the conflict.

But even if the opposition parties do well at the polls, they are still a long way from forming a government. Non-Socialist parties have little to unite them apart from hatred of Mr Milosevic.

A change of government inside Serbia could trigger a serious crisis at a delicate moment in international negotiations. Serbs, Muslims and Croats are due to attend a crucial new round of talks in Geneva today on ending the war in Bosnia.

Muslim forces in the republic yesterday halted an aid convoy bound for the besieged Croatian enclave of Nova Bila in central Bosnia, after discovering 15,000 bomb-making devices in the trucks. The convoy's Croatian organisers accused Muslims of planting the cache.

British forces were also active in Bosnia yesterday evacuating the sick and wounded. Four adults and 14 children, some with leukaemia, heart and eye problems, were airlifted by Royal Navy helicopters from Visoko, north of Sarajevo.

Some of the Visoko evacuees are expected to be among the 16 Bosnians the Government has accepted for treatment in Britain; they will start arriving this afternoon. They will fly into Birmingham from Ancona, in Italy, where a team of British specialists has been assessing their medical needs.

Midlands hospitals are preparing to treat them. The Heartlands Hospital Trust, east Birmingham, a centre of expertise in chest surgery, will take 12 casualties, including the two boys with war injuries and all 10 adults.

Evacuees fly out, page 4

Milosevic's test, page 8

Celia Hall in Bosnia, page 17