Voters back Milosevic, Greater Serbia and war

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The Independent Online
SERBIA'S electorate delivered a defiant message to the international community last night. Partial results suggested that the hardline nationalist leader, Slobodan Milosevic, was cruising to a comfortable victory in the race for the Serbian presidency.

Voters delivered a crushing blow to the liberal, pro-Western challenger, Milan Panic, in an election widely seen as a straight choice between peace and war. Mr Panic will now come under heavy pressure to give up his post as Yugoslav Prime Minister.

Incomplete results gave Mr Milosevic 56.3 per cent of the vote against 33.66 per cent for Mr Panic, more than enough to spare Mr Milosevic a run-off ballot in two weeks' time. As the scale of the disaster sank in, Mr Panic claimed the vote was a fraud. Looking aghast and worn out, he said on television that if the campaign had been fair he would have won more than 50 per cent.

International monitors said the vote was 'riddled with flaws and irregularities' aimed at ensuring Mr Milosevic's re-election. A report by the 119-member monitoring team sent by the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe said: 'Observers have estimated that 5 per cent or more of prospective voters were not allowed to participate . . . a disproportionate amount of these would likely have supported the

opposition.'

In elections to Serbia's parliament, Milosevic supporters were on course for victory against the opposition coalition, Depos, which backed Mr Panic. The ruling Socialists are likely to remain the biggest party, but the biggest shock was a heavy swing towards the ultra-nationalist Radical Party. With at least a quarter of the votes, it could emerge as Serbia's second largest party.

Led by Vojislav Seselj, the Radicals openly espouse expelling ethnic minorities from Serbia and clamour for war with other former Yugoslav republics in order to win more territory. Mr Seselj was named recently by the US Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, as a man who should stand trial for war crimes in Bosnia.

A coalition between Mr Milosevic's party and the Radicals looks certain in both the Serbian and the federal parliament, representing Serbia and Montenegro. Montenegro's electorate also returned ex-Communists to power.

The results suggested that the electorate had swung in favour of extreme Serbian nationalism, and even in favour of more fighting to create a Greater Serbia out of the ruins of Yugoslavia. By contrast, Mr Panic's attempt to steer Serbia towards peace and a return to the international community did not win popular approval. Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province and most Muslims of the Sandzak region boycotted the election.

The success of Mr Milosevic's party reflected its use of the state television network to rubbish the opposition and depict Mr Panic as a CIA spy and Vatican agent.

Mr Milosevic's triumph will push Serbia deeper into international isolation. New sanctions, including the severing of postal and telecommunications links with the world, may follow. Western leaders, who were hoping a liberal Belgrade would resolve the carnage of Bosnia for them, will have to deal with an ultra-nationalist government, fortified by a fresh triumph at the polls.

Serbia's ruthless right, page 8

Letters, page 16

Robert Fisk, page 17

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