Milosevic faces party rebellion

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Deposed Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic may be ousted from his Serbian Socialist Party, leaving him open to criminal prosecution.

Deposed Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic may be ousted from his Serbian Socialist Party, leaving him open to criminal prosecution.

He faces a simmering rebellion within the political party that helped him rule unchallenged for 13 years.

In the wake of his earlier fall this month, the Serbian Socialist Party called a convention for November 25 amid signs of a growing move to dislodge Milosevic from the party's leadership, leaving him even more vulnerable to criminal prosecution for ruining Yugoslavia during his rule.

Several top-ranking Socialist officials and co-founders of the party, which succeeded the Communist Alliance of Yugoslavia in 1991, have spoken against Milosevic.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they fear reprisals, said the party could offer Milosevic a title with dignity but without any real role in running the organization. He would be replaced at the helm by a five-member presidency of party moderates.

But Milosevic is clearly trying to hold on. He still lives in his residence, protected by troops of the army's elite Guard Brigade. He left his compound for the first time after the October 5 uprising to preside at the party's main board session.

Moderated in the party fear it has no future unless it rids itself of the stain of Milosevic.

Nebojsa Spaic, a political analyst of the independent Media Center, believes the Socialists will split into rival factions.

"One faction will remain loyal to Milosevic, and will gradually disappear," Spaic said.

"The other side, if it really splits from the old-style Milosevic party, has some chance of becoming a respectable left-wing party."

Earlier this month, 40 long-time party members - some of whom were dismissed of opposing Milosevic, called in an open letter for a top-to-bottom reform of the party to restore basic principles of "social justice and a market economy".

The reform movement includes Branislav Ivkovic, the party's Belgrade leader, and two members of Yugoslavia's former collective presidency, Borisav Jovic and Zoran Lilic.

"If the Socialist party doesn't purge Milosevic, it cannot hope to become a serious party again," Jovic said. Jovic was once one of Milosevic's closest allies.

"Milosevic made catastrophic mistakes, and he must go," said Milorad Vucelic, the party's former vice president.

Even some of those recently associated with Milosevic are hinting that it's time for change. Socialist party spokesman Ivica Dacic said "the party must elect new leadership, consisting of uncompromised people."

The first sign of a mutiny within Socialist ranks surfaced shortly after the September 24 presidential election in the southern city of Nis.

The local party leadership accused Milosevic of a "catastrophic election failure" and demanded his ouster. Similar calls came from party groups in small Serbian towns.

"People began raising their voice, and a major democratization of party occurred," Ivkovic said.

As a first step toward rehabilitation, the party jettisoned its alliance with the Yugoslav Left, led by Milosevic's ambitious wife, Mirjana Markovic. Her group had branded all supporters of new President Vojislav Kostunica as Western spies and lackeys.

Some analysts believe the party may still have a political future in Yugoslavia.

"If they manage to implement proposed reforms, the Socialists might be able to rise to power again in three to four years, as it happened in other former communist countries," Belgrade analyst Milica Kuburovic said.