Kostunica 'sabotaged' as food prices soar

Yugoslavia: European commissioner Patten warns time running out for delivery of aid as new President takes responsibility for Milosevic crimes
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The Independent Online

Supporters of ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic were accused of sabotage yesterday as fears mounted over the country's deteriorating economy and new electricity restrictions came into force.

Supporters of ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic were accused of sabotage yesterday as fears mounted over the country's deteriorating economy and new electricity restrictions came into force.

With price hikes also threatening the popularity of Serbia's new democratic rulers, Chris Patten, European Commissioner for external affairs, hinted at the removal of remaining economic sanctions, including those targeted specifically on Mr Milosevic's allies.

"I have always taken the view that it does not pay to be more royal than the Queen. If the view of the authorities here is that these sanctions should go, then I think we would have to take that seriously," said Mr Patten, after meeting the influential G17 group of economists.

Mr Patten's visit to Belgrade came as the Serbian parliament approved a new transitional government in a victory for the new federal president Vojislav Kostunica, whose followers will share power with Mr Milosevic's party pending elections expected in December.

But, on a more ominous note, electricity across the republic was being cut off for four hours a day to prevent shortages.

The state-owned power monopoly EPS said it has enough coal reserves to cover only 35 per cent of needs and enough water at hydroelectric plants to cover only 37 percent of needs.

A month after Mr Milosevic was ejected from power, many expectations remain unfulfilled. One illustration of the political confusion is the fact that the official presidential residence is still controlled by Mr Milosevic while his successor lives in a modest apartment across town.

Bread prices have risen by three times, oil and sugar by nearly four, and the EU is moving quickly to get emergency aid in place. One of the final acts of the last Serbian government was the removal food subsidies, causing inevitable price hikes, and provoking a bitter row over who is to blame.

Allies of Mr Milosevic remain well-placed and yesterday Milan Protic, the new mayor of Belgrade, accused them of deliberate wrecking in an attempt to destabilise the new regime.

"In terms of energy and power supply," said Mr Protic, "and in terms of control of prices including food they have used this opportunity to raise prices and liberalise the policy.

"It is," he added, "a question of sabotage and subversive activities by those within the system. We need a process of de-Nazification to free the entire power structure of people who belong to the old regime." There are growing worries that economic difficulties will sap support for Mr Kostunica in the run up to a new set of elections to the Serbian parliament expected on 23 December.

Radomic Diklic, director of the independent news agency Beta, argues: "Our mentality is that everything is finished and the opposition has won.

But the fact is that the socialists have a stable body of people who will vote for them. The belief was that, if Milosevic went, then everyone would instantly be better off. But we have high prices we have a shortages of electricity. If the turn-out is low in the elections, the socialists could be a very strong group in the parliament. "Some of the democratic opposition parties have other domestic political worries fearing, in particular, that any concessions over the status of Montenegro or Kosovo would weaken their support."

That puts the pressure firmly on the EU to start delivering 200m euros worth of emergency aid within the next month, including heating oil and support for food and basic commodities. Yesterday Mr Protic also called for help to keep public transport going and maintain basic services such as rubbish collection.

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