Kostunica sacks Milosevic's men as he tightens grip

President-elect consolidates power by dismissing Serbian police chief and Yugoslav prime minister as gunfire erupts in Belgrade
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The Independent Online

The Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, consolidated his grip on power in Belgrade yesterday when the federal Prime Minister and the Serbian police chief, two allies of the deposed president Slobodan Milosevic, were forced to resign.

The Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, consolidated his grip on power in Belgrade yesterday when the federal Prime Minister and the Serbian police chief, two allies of the deposed president Slobodan Milosevic, were forced to resign.

Whether Mr Milosevic's cronies will continue to resist Mr Kostunica's efforts to dismantle the government of Serbia, the dominant republic in the Yugoslav federation, remains to be seen.

All main Serbian parties agreed yesterday to early parliamentary elections, now expected in December, a move that would enable the new leadership to remove what remains of Mr Milosevic's base.

Serbia is still officially run by a coalition of Mr Milosevic's Socialists, his wife's JUL party and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) of Vojislav Seselj. Yesterday's session of the Serbian Parliament was called under the mounting pressure of public opinion, which wants to see the coalition step aside because of fears it could otherwise thwart pro-democracy reforms.

Mr Kostunica's popularity means his allies would be likely to win a convincing majority in Serbia's new Parliament. Serbia's President and Parliament are elected separately from federal posts and were not involved in the contentious 24 September elections.

But some of Mr Milosevic's allies appeared not to have noticed the game was over yesterday during a rowdy session of the Serbian Parliament, which voted the Yugoslav Prime Minister, Momir Bulatovic, and the Serbian Interior Minister, Vlajko Stojiljkovic, out of office. For Mr Stojiljkovic, the first victim of a wave of change sweeping Serbia after Mr Milosevic's downfall, his own resignation was the result of "Nato attacks" orchestrated against him by "Serb traitors".

"This is a highway robbery," Mr Seselj, Serbia's ultranationalist deputy premier, told MPs. "You will not get our blessing for a coup." With his voice shaking, he said: "If someone wants to shoot us, they can do that." Then one of Mr Seselj's bodyguards fired into the air as he scuffled with protesters, throwing rubbish at him as he left the building.

In Yugoslavia's streets, factories and other public places, meanwhile, anger against Mr Milosevic's cronies turned into violent rage yesterday. A mob of workers attacked Radoman Bozovic, a close Milosevic aide and the director of a Belgrade trading corporation. He tried to flee from his car, but he was caught and beaten. His bodyguards snatched him and moved him into a nearby building for safety. Later, Mr Bozovic resigned as the head of Genex, the biggest state-run import-export operation. Workers stormed a state-run textile factory in Nis, demanding that the management be fired.

The once charismatic leader of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), Vuk Draskovic, whose party suffered a heavy loss in the elections, was astonished to be booed by students as he addressed them outside the Parliament. They shouted: "We don't need you any more" and "Traitor". Mr Draskovic's party faces political extinction after his self-imposed exile in Montenegro and his refusal to join the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, which backed Mr Kostunica. Ahead of yesterday's parliamentary session, the Socialists, the SRS and the SPO held consultations with the DOS. The coalition is demanding parliament be dissolved, which would clear the way for a "government of experts" that would serve until elections in Serbia can be held.

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