Democracy parties in talks on new government

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The Independent Online

With Slobodan Milosevic ousted and Vojislav Kostunica in office, backers of the pro-democracy president have embarked on the potentially volatile task of forming a new government that tries to exclude backers of the former strongman.

With Slobodan Milosevic ousted and Vojislav Kostunica in office, backers of the pro-democracy president have embarked on the potentially volatile task of forming a new government that tries to exclude backers of the former strongman.

"We need a government of discontinuity," said opposition leader Zoran Djindjic, who helped manage Kostunica's rise to power, from his election campaign, through the brief revolt that forced Milosevic to concede Friday and Kostunica's swearing in Saturday.

Kostunica's team was faced with a difficult task Sunday: Forming a government with as few old faces as possible, while placating a still powerful Milosevic wing that continues to wield considerable power.

Milosevic himself has vowed to remain in Yugoslavia as a political force. Kostunica has said he would defy Western demands to surrender Milosevic and other indicted war criminals to the tribunal in The Hague.

And Serbia - the main Yugoslav republic that is home to more than 90 percent of Yugoslavs - still is run by a government of Milosevic cronies, including Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, like Milosevic indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal. Milutinovic controls approximately 100,000 policemen in his republic and, indirectly, much of the republic's economy.

Constitutionally, the Serbian presidency's powers are more substantial than those of the federal president - although Kostunica's prestige among his people is at a high-point.

He scored a stunning upset over Milosevic in the Sept. 24 presidential election that sparked a national uprising after the former strongman sought to deny the opposition victory, forcing him to concede defeat.

Before the swearing-in ceremony, Vlajko Stojiljkovic, Serbia's interior minister, struck a defiant tone. He described the events that led to Milosevic's ouster - protests that turned to the storming of federal parliament and other key buildings - as "the work of hooligans."

Cleaning house at top levels is also important for Yugoslavia in its efforts to break out of a decade of sanctions and international isolation meant to bring Milosevic to heel.

Milosevic is blamed by the West for starting - and then losing - four Balkan wars which broke out in the last decade when parts of Yugoslavia began to seek independence. Those conflicts were marked by horrific acts of violence against civilians, which prompted Western governments to impose sanctions and isolate Belgrade

A new government should "be able to show up in Brussels and Washington and say: 'the country has democratized ... we ask from you to lift the sanctions,"' said Djindjic.

Both the United States and the European Union have said they will begin to lift sanctions once the new government is in place.

Djindjic spoke after the inaugural session of Yugoslav Parliament where Kostunica took office. In brief, but emotional comments, Kostunica pledged to follow his conscience in leading Yugoslavia and urged lawmakers in parliament to bury past enmities that led to bloodshed and chaos.

The 56-year-old legal scholar promised to return Yugoslavia to democracy and end the turmoil of ethnic conflict and economic devastation that marked the 13 years of Milosevic's rule.

"Everything is peaceful." Kostunica said. "Yugoslavia and Serbia have joined the family of democratic nations."

Still, discord could resurface, at least in parliament.

The swearing in itself was repeatedly postponed because of delaying tactics by Milosevic allies who contested parts of the Sept. 24 vote that led to Kostunica's victory over Milosevic

And with Kostunica's 18-party opposition block short of the absolute majority in parliament it appears compelled to deal with the Socialist People's Party, of Montenegro, the smaller Yugoslav republic.

That party backed Milosevic until his downfall and now seeks to have one of its own appointed as Yugoslavia's prime minister - the constitution says that if the president is from Serbia, the prime minister must be Montenegrin.

With the opposition outnumbered in parliament, a nonpartisan government of experts, as favored by many in the Kostunica camp has little chance of being formed.

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