New Yugoslav premier takes on reformists

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The Independent Online
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Yugoslavia's new Prime Minister, Momir Bulatovic, took office yesterday, spoiling for a fight with reformist leaders of the Montenegrin republic who vowed to boycott his government.

Mr Bulatovic, a close ally of Yugoslavia's President Slobodan Milosevic, was ratified without opposition in the two federal parliament chambers, but his Montenegrin opponents were absent from the voting.

Montenegrin reformers, led by the small republic's President Milo Djukanovic, warned that Mr Bulatovic's appointment will put Serbia and Montenegro on a collision course that could destroy the Yugoslav federation, in which the two republics are supposed to be equal partners.

Mr Djukanovic blames President Milosevic's domination of Serbia, which dwarfs Montenegro economically, for Yugoslavia's international economic and diplomatic isolation.

The crux of the crisis between the two republics is over whether Yugoslavia should become the modern, market-driven democratic state envisioned by Mr Djukanovic or remain under the sway of the former communists who have held a monopoly of power for more than 50 years.

The reformers said Mr Milosevic handed Mr Bulatovic the prestige and power of his federal post in order to sway Montenegro's parliamentary elections on 31 May in his ally's favour. Mr Djukanovic, who defeated Mr Bulatovic for the Montenegrin presidency last year, is fighting to retain control of the parliament which provides him with powerful constitutional weapons with which to wage his war against Mr Milosevic.

Mr Bulatovic said his government would work on the creation of a unified Yugoslav economy. Political sources said this was a threat to attack efforts by Mr Djukanovic to liberalise in Montenegro, which has an active privatisation programme. The republic's freedom of action is limited because it is subject to federal law in key areas. It has also stopped the West giving Mr Djukanovic favourable treatment compared to Serbia, the real target of international sanctions, where Mr Milosevic exercises full control of the republican and federal governments.