Milosevic crushes his parliamentary rivals: After the brutal arrest of the opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, the Serbian strongman consolidates his hold on power

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The Independent Online
WITH the arrest of Vuk Draskovic, Serbia's strongman Slobodan Milosevic has snuffed out the last remnants of parliamentary opposition to his six-year rule. The brutality of Mr Draskovic's arrest, his beating up and the detention of dozens of officials from his Serbian Renewal Party, will serve as a useful lesson to Mr Draskovic's more timid colleagues in case they consider leading any more public protests against Mr Milosevic and the ruling Serbian Socialists.

As for Mr Milosevic, he has never looked more confident and powerful. Earlier this week he ousted the President of Yugoslavia, Dobrica Cosic. More heads are tipped to roll in the purge of opponents, both real and imagined. Among them will probably be the Yugoslav army chief, General Zivota Panic, whose son was arrested for smuggling at the weekend.

Abroad Mr Milosevic is courted as the man who could - if he feels in the mood - end the appalling carnage mostly committed by Serbs in Bosnia. Neighbouring Croatia, smashed and one-third occupied by Serbian forces under his control, is now suing for peace.

Western diplomats openly speak of Mr Milosevic - once described as 'the Butcher of the Balkans' - as the kind of man they can do business with. He is notching up triumphs. Threats to strike Bosnian Serbs are a distant memory. Likewise the American threat to take reprisals if Serbs begin 'ethnic cleansing' among the Albanians of Kosovo. Now the West is rushing to assure Mr Milosevic they have always considered Kosovo an integral part of Serbia. The 2 million Albanians there had better take note. As an integral part of Serbia they can expect even less help, if that is possible, than the wretched Bosnians - members of an internationally recognised state.

The only question left is: what next? The opposition has been crushed and those who are not arrested will feel like staying silent. 'If the leader of the biggest opposition party can be arrested and beaten up, what is the situation for ordinary people?' Vladimir Gajic, an official from Mr Draskovic's party, asked yesterday. Within the Serbian leadership, Mr Cosic is safely out of the way, ranting in retirement that the man he did so much to help to power is 'a pupil of Stalin'. The army remains a source of constant suspicion for Mr Milosevic, but the army is becoming a less important factor every day.

Serbia's police force, conservatively estimated at 60,000, is practically the same size as the Yugoslav army and is extremely well armed and a lot more confident of its role in society than the army. A policeman who died yesterday from head wounds sustained in the riot outside the Yugoslav parliament on Tuesday night was from Istok, in Kosovo. This huge force of well-paid country lads is predominantly recruited from the Serbs of Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. This is Mr Milosevic's army. And it is a reliable force, with no love for Belgrade's intellectuals or opposition politicians.

For the moment Mr Milosevic will have to share power with the ultra-nationalists in Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party, who have helped him get rid of all his other opponents. Mr Seselj led the motion in parliament to oust Mr Cosic from the post of President of Yugoslavia. Earlier he helped to see off a moderate challenge from the then prime minister, Milan Panic. It was one of Mr Seselj's men who sparked off the riot outside the parliament by beating up an opposition deputy in the corridor of parliament. Now Mr Seselj is spearheading the campaign against Gen Panic.

Mr Seselj will have to be dealt with as well, and that could prove difficult. He is building up his own base in the bureaucracy. But Mr Milosevic has until now shown an almost uncanny instinct for tapping and tuning the instincts of the average Serb. When the moment is right, he will strike at this - his last - opponent.

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