Milosevic wants Yugoslav political role

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The Independent Online

Defiant Slobodan Milosevic has said he wants to remain in politics on Yugoslavia despite his apparent overthrow from power.

Defiant Slobodan Milosevic has said he wants to remain in politics on Yugoslavia despite his apparent overthrow from power.

Milosevic told Russian Foreign Minister Ivan Ivanov at a meeting at his Belgrade home that he wants to stay as head of the Socialist Party.

He also appeared on television looking tired after yesterday's demonstrations which saw his presidency all but vanish.

His stubborn defiance came shortly after the UN repeated its request for Yugoslavia to hand over Milosevic to stand trial for war crimes and possible genocide.

In a statement broadcast by a TV station operated by his allies, his first since the uprising, Milosevic denounced demonstrators as a threat to the Yugoslav state.

The statement said: "It was agreed that violence and destructive riots jeopardize the functioning of the state.

Such behavior "weakens the state, which is only in the interest of the country's enemies".

According to the statement, Ivanov conveyed "greetings from Russian President Vladimir Putin, along with hopes and wishes of Russia for a peaceful resolution of the ongoing problems in Yugoslavia, through legal means and with respect to the constitution, without interference from abroad".

The statement said the only solution is through respect of the constitution, the law, the safety of all citizens and a peaceful resolution of all matters in tune with national and state interests. The report also said that the meeting between Milosevic and Ivanov was attended by Yugoslav foreign minister, Zivadin Jovanovic. There was no confirmation from Russian sources.

Ivanov said: "Being the leader of the largest political party in Serbia, he intends to continue to play a political role in the country."

The Russian official also met Milosevic's challenger, Vojislav Kostunica, and congratulated him on his "victory" in last month's disputed elections.

The US immediately said it would not support any future role for Milosevic.

"We would not support any continued role for Milosevic in Yugoslavia", White House spokesman Jake Siewert said.

Siewert also said Washington would not "endorse nor support" any move for a foreign country to give Milosevic asylum.

Asked whether the United States recognised opposition leader Kostunica as president of Yugoslavia, Siewert said: "We have said for some time that he is the democratically elected leader of Serbia. He is the president, and we look forward to working with him and his government."

He said the United States, working with its European allies, would move quickly to lift international sanctions on Yugoslavia once it was clear Milosevic had been removed from power.

And he added: "Once it's clear that Milosevic is gone, and that the democratic transition is complete, we'll move quickly with our European allies to begin to take the steps that are necessary to remove those sanctions."

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Prime Minister Vladimir Yermoshin said his country would consider an asylum request from Milosevic if he flees Yugoslavia.

"If the appeal is made, competent agencies will consider it," Yermoshin said on Belarusian television from Kazakstan, where he was meeting with the prime ministers of four other former Soviet republics.

Earlier US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright welcomed Russia's recognition of Kostunica but warned Milosevic may still be capable of sparking bloodshed.

The US administration had been wary of Russian diplomatic moves in Belgrade pending Moscow's public acceptance that Kostunica won the election.

In an important change on Friday, Russia joined an international outpouring of support for Kostunica and dropped its support for Milosevic, an old ally who is the first sitting chief of state to be indicted for war crimes.

In interviews on US television programmes, Albright said the important thing now was to help solidify Kostunica's position.

She appeared to shift US emphasis away from ensuring that Milosevic be brought before an international war crimes tribunal in The Hague to consolidation of Kostunica's control.

"We have said that (the war crimes prosecution) is very important but I think that (at) this moment, what is very important is to support the people of Serbia, support Mr. Kostunica, and make sure that this is a total victory," she said.