Milosevic allies in Montenegro back democracy

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The Independent Online

In Serbia, everybody knew that a velvet revolution was unthinkable. The history of the past 10 years had made that clear. But last night this impossible revolution was on the way to becoming formally complete. Vojislav Kostunica was preparing to be sworn in as the democratically elected president of Yugoslavia.

In Serbia, everybody knew that a velvet revolution was unthinkable. The history of the past 10 years had made that clear. But last night this impossible revolution was on the way to becoming formally complete. Vojislav Kostunica was preparing to be sworn in as the democratically elected president of Yugoslavia.

Confirming the final collapse of Slobodan Milosevic's rule, his traditional coalition partners in Montenegro defected to the Serb opposition, thus giving the democrats a majority in the federal parliament.

In a neat political move, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition appeared to have agreed a deal whereby the respected economist, Miroljub Labus, not associated with a political party, would be prime minister of a "government of experts".

Mr Milosevic said he intended to return to politics, as leader of the Socialist Party; his once adoring party may, however, prove less than enthusiastic about him. Precedents from the democratic revolutions elsewhere in eastern Europe suggest that the party is likely to reinvent itself, with only a few isolated diehards remaining loyal to the old regime.

On the streets of Belgrade, crowds gathered yet again for what has become a daily celebration of Serbia's freedom. Soon, an almost normal life should return, but the challenges ahead are huge, as they were in eastern Europe after 1989. But Serbia finally has a chance to address those challenges as never before.

Many in Serbia have long assumed that Mr Milosevic would pull one last violent trick. So deep do the suspicions run that even now - after his resignation and congratulation for Mr Kostunica - some in the opposition believe that he has something up his sleeve.

Zoran Djindjic, campaign manager for the DOS coalition, has argued in recent days that Serbs should stay on their guard; Mr Milosevic might go for a "stab in the back" with the help of the army or police. Mr Djindjic said yesterday that 3,500 police were brought in to Belgrade on Friday, but that the danger was over "at least for today". But many Serbs remain wary. "There is something unsettling about this easy outcome," one Belgrade resident said. "Nobody was killed. That defies our expectations."

Mr Milosevic has certainly defied expectations - by seeking to leave the political stage as though he were a parliamentary democrat. But the defeat has also meant a crum- bling of his authority. Even if the army or some police will obey him, an attempted coup would land them in jail. It looks as though the revolution will end almost violence-free.

There have been a number of attacks on the offices of Mr Milosevic's Socialist Party across the country; the home of a local party leader was set on fire. But the DOS leaders have sharply condemned revenge attacks. This is nothing like the violent anarchy of the Romanian revolution in 1989.

The main loser in all of this - apart from Mr Milosevic himself - is Milo Djukanovic, president of the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, and Mr Milosevic's arch-enemy in recent years. Mr Djukanovic has grown accustomed to being described as "pro-western". Now he looks set to be the West's least favourite leader in the region. His reaction to the victory of President Kostunica has been to go into a deep sulk.

Yesterday, Mr Djukanovic claimed that the new democratic government in Belgrade would be "illegitimate". He warned President Kostunica not to "rescue a political corpse" - a reference to the pro-Belgrade SNP, which, by jumping ship from the Milosevic coalition, gave the DOS opposition a parliamentary majority for the first time. That change of power leaves Mr Djukanovic, whose coalition boycotted the elections, sidelined.

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