Court rebuffs Milosevic

A Serb court yesterday rebuffed the ruling Socialist Party by reconfirming an opposition victory in elections in the industrial town of Nis in November.

The slap-down provided the latest indication that street protests against the regime have opened up new and potentially lethal splits in the establishment. Until recently, it would have been unthinkable for a Serb court to rule against the party of Slobodan Milosevic.

An electoral commission this week overturned a previous annulment of an opposition victory in the capital, Belgrade. The opposition still expects the Socialist Party (the former Communist Party) to appeal against the ruling. Opposition sources argued yesterday that Mr Milosevic is "playing for time".

Street protests against the refusal to recognise the opposition victories in Belgrade and other cities continued nationwide. The demonstrations, which began after elections two months ago yesterday, are no longer gaining the momentum which might make an early denouement inevitable. But nor are they fading away.

In the words of one opposition official, "the authorities are in complete disarray". Army commanders have expressed unhappiness that force might be used against the demonstrators. There are splits within the Socialist Party, between reformers pressing for change and hard-liners who want to batten down the hatches.

The police, too, are no longer necessarily reliable. One regional police chief has suggested that the busing in of policemen to the capital for "demo duty" is counter-productive for the regime. "After a week spent in Belgrade, they get contaminated. They talk to the demonstrators, they listen to B92 [opposition] radio. And then they take the contamination back home."

Renewed international support for the opposition came with the announcement that the German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, has invited Zoran Djindjic, one of the leaders of the opposition coalition, for talks in Bonn.