Milosevic allies move to regain levers of power

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The Independent Online

The international war crimes tribunal yesterday said it wanted to open an office in Belgrade, and demanded the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic. But it may have spoken too soon. Even as its deputy prosecutor, Graham Blewitt, talked of the birth of a new democracy in Yugoslavia, allies of the tribunal's most wanted man were trying to force their way back into power.

The international war crimes tribunal yesterday said it wanted to open an office in Belgrade, and demanded the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic. But it may have spoken too soon. Even as its deputy prosecutor, Graham Blewitt, talked of the birth of a new democracy in Yugoslavia, allies of the tribunal's most wanted man were trying to force their way back into power.

It is not over in Serbia yet. Mr Blewitt announced yesterday he had sent the new Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, a letter demanding that Mr Milosevic be handed over. But the deposed president was still hidden in his Belgrade residence yesterday, as his allies in the Serbian government ordered police to seize back state institutions taken over by the opposition, and the Yugoslav army warned of "negative consequences" if Mr Kostunica attempted to purge the general staff.

Serbia has woken up from the party to celebrate the downfall of Mr Milosevic to find plenty of work still to be done. Everyone has been talking of the foreign investment about to flow in - but foreign bankers yesterday said there was little prospect of that, so long as Mr Milosevic's cronies retained control of much of the economy.

"The situation right now is that all the crooks in the economy are still in charge," said Jerome Booth, head of research at London's Ashmore Investment Management. "They've been raking in money and people want to see them out."

Mr Milosevic stuffed every corner of Serbia with his allies, and they are proving hard to get rid of. Some key figures have resigned, including Serbia's interior minister. But his departure only prompted yesterday's takeover of the Interior Ministry, which controls Serbia's 100,000 police, by the Serbian Prime Minister, Mirko Marjanovic.

So far only a few of Mr Milosevic's men have fled the country, but it is rumoured the pro-Milosevic factions in the military have taken over air traffic control to ensure an exit route. The police appear divided. Many officers went over to the opposition in last week's revolution, and several police chiefs have publicly pledged allegiance to Mr Kostunica.

But yesterday, three bodyguards belonging to opposition leaders were arrested by police. They were later released, but an opposition leader, Cedomir Jovanovic, said it was a deliberate "provocation".

Zoran Djindjic, Mr Kostunica's most powerful backer, has said that the notorious secret police, who used to report directly to Mr Milosevic, are "still closed to us". They have resumed their activities, including bugging, says Mr Djindjic, who has been leading negotiations with security forces.

It was Mr Djindjic who appeared to precipitate yesterday's warnings from the army, when he said that Mr Kostunica hoped to replace the Chief of Staff with Momcilo Perisic, a former general sacked by Mr Milosevic. Where the opposition has succeeded in removing Mr Milosevic's cronies, they have been accused of promoting lawlessness. Companies and institutions whose managers have been deposed are said to be being run by "crisis committees" - but there are reports that criminals are using that as a pretext to take over companies, claiming they represent the opposition. Mr Kostunica's coalition yesterday denied it had set up "crisis committees".

But it all adds grist to the mill of Mr Milosevic's allies in the Serbian government. The "lawlessness" in state institutions and companies was their excuse for reneging yesterday on their agreement to hold elections on 17 December, and their pretext for ordering police in to wrest back control.

But all is not lost for the opposition. Popular support remains massively behind them, and Mr Djindjic warned that if the Serbian government tests him too far, he may call the people back on to the streets.

And the people's patience is running out. Spray-painted on a Belgrade wall yesterday was the message: "The sure way to finish Milosevic: put a bullet in his head."

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