Milosevic demonises West on eve of volatile election

A deeply unpopular President goes to a would-be breakaway republic in his first trip outside Serbia since the Kosovo conflict
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The Independent Online

The toothless old woman held aloft a portrait of Slobodan Milosevic as the Yugoslav leader strode on to the stage. " Slobo je nasa sunse - Slobo is our sunshine," she proclaimed.

The toothless old woman held aloft a portrait of Slobodan Milosevic as the Yugoslav leader strode on to the stage. " Slobo je nasa sunse - Slobo is our sunshine," she proclaimed.

Mr Milosevic flew by military helicopter to the grim and dilapidated town of Beranje in Montenegro yesterday to rally support before the Yugoslav presidential elections on Sunday. Thousands of workers and party members had been taken by bus to a military airfield outside the town - formerly named Ivangrad after a partisan hero - to hear him brand Western leaders "rats and hyenas".

The visit was accompanied by a show of force, with Yugoslav military police and even special anti-terrorist units from Serbia lining the roads. Armoured vehicles and antiaircraft cannon were in the surrounding fields.

To chants of "Slobo, Slobo" Mr Milosevic told the crowd that Yugoslavia was under attack from without and within. His political opponents were in the pay of Nato "aggressor" states. "The great powers are conducting a media war, applying sanctions, threatening us, bribing. They are big, powerful states and there are politicians here who take their bribes, showing the loyalty of dogs."

The crowds were ecstatic, waving flags, portraits of Mr Milosevic and placards saying "K-For out of Kosovo" and "We will not give up our land".

Mr Milosevic's reference to a "Western campaign of media lies" was especially popular. Western reporters present were spat at and their vehicles kicked and spray-painted.

Stewards distributed copies of a magazine showing the heads of Tony Blair, Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton pasted on to photographs of grotesquely fat women in pornographic poses.

At the heart of Mr Milosevic's speech was a ringing declaration that Montenegro had to stay within the Yugoslav federation. "Through their history, Serbs and Montenegrins thousands of times have been giants but these giants are again faced with rats and hyenas," he said. The crowd responded with chants of "Milo is a thief, Milo is a Muslim," a reference to Montenegro's pro-Western leader, Milo Djukanovic, who wants to take the republic to independence and who has refused to take part in the elections despite appeals from opposition parties in Serbia.

One woman in the crowd told me: "Milosevic is a great patriot, a great man, a statesman - he doesn't hate anyone. The United States wants to rule the whole planet but we will not give them this land."

Mr Milosevic is trailing badly in opinion polls throughout Yugoslavia. But international observers, including Human Rights Watch, have warned that he is planning to use "gross fraud", such as hundreds of thousands of "ghost votes" from Montenegro and Kosovo, to steal victory.

One possible outcome of the election is that Mr Milosevic and the Serbian opposition will both claim victory. Western governments are increasingly fearful that Mr Milosevic will instigate a conflict in Montenegro rather than give up power.

The President's decision to limit his visit to Montenegro yesterday to a heavily guarded military base indicates the tensions that have arisen in the state ahead of the vote.

Milosevic supporters account for about one-third of the Montenegrin population. They oppose the moves towards independence launched by the republic's leadership.