Milosevic fixes poll date in push for total control

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The Independent Online

The President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, announced yesterday that federal and parliamentary elections would be held on 24 September.

The President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, announced yesterday that federal and parliamentary elections would be held on 24 September.

That sets the stage for a test of strength for the regime, which has been tilting electoral laws in its favour. The same date was set for local elections in Serbia, seen as a further attempt by Mr Milosevic to win total control in the country.

The main Serbian opposition leader, Vuk Draskovic, immediately warned that his Serbian Renewal Movement would not take part in the parliamentary and presidential polls without the participation of Montenegro, the pro-Western junior partner in the Yugoslav federal republic. Montenegro vowed to boycott any elections organised by Mr Milosevic, accusing him of creating a private state.

Mr Draskovic said: "If official Montenegro does not take part in the elections on the federal level, such a ballot ... becomes a dangerous provocation forthe breaking up of the federal state."

The presidential and parliamentary elections are being held under constitutional changes adopted on 6 July, apparently aimed at extending Mr Milosevic's grip on power. These have been strongly criticised by his opponents in Serbia and Montenegro. They allow the Yugoslav President to stand for another two four-year terms. Under the old constitution he would have had to step down by the end of his mandate in July 2001.

The changes allow the president to be elected in a direct vote, in effect marginalising Montenegro, with its population of 600,000 compared with Serbia's 7.5 million. They also provide for the direct election of the Yugoslav parliament's upper chamber, a measure that will make it easier for Mr Milosevic to ensure the election of loyal Montenegrin politicians. On Monday the Yugoslav parliament went ahead with the adoption of new electoral laws allowing candidates to be elected by a simple majority.

Mr Milosevic's Socialist Party will meet today to decide its presidential contender. Few doubt that Mr Milosevic will be the candidate.

Nikola Sainovic, the party speaker, said "no international monitors" from countries involved in last year's Nato air strikes would be allowed into the country for the elections.

Most opposition parties have said they will participate in the vote, despite the constitutional changes clearly favouring the regime.

In the municipal polls, 15 of Serbia's biggest towns are run by opposition parties, including the capital Belgrade and Novi Sad, Nis and Kragujevac.

The Milosevic regime has in recent months cracked down hard on the opposition, closing independent media and intimidating and detaining dissidents, who are branded pro-Western traitors.

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