Milosevic will use 'gross fraud' to steal election

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The Independent Online

Chances of a fair vote in forthcoming presidential elections in Yugoslavia are remote amid signs that President Slobodan Milosevic will use "gross and unchecked fraud" to rig the result, the US-based Human Rights Watch warned yesterday.

Chances of a fair vote in forthcoming presidential elections in Yugoslavia are remote amid signs that President Slobodan Milosevic will use "gross and unchecked fraud" to rig the result, the US-based Human Rights Watch warned yesterday.

A spokeswoman said: "The government has carried out a pre-election campaign of intimidation and violence against the opposition. It has transformed the election campaign into a siege against the opposition."

Opinion polls from Serbia showed Mr Milosevic trailing Vojislav Kostunica, his main opposition rival in the 24 September contest. Mr Kostunica, who was violently pelted with stones and vegetables by Milosevic supporters at a rally in Kosovo on Thursday, has an 18 percentage point lead.

The leader of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) has canvassed thousands in the past 10 days in a nationwide door-to-door campaign. But the tone is low key. Three modest buses marked "DOS" carry Mr Kostunica and 150 campaign workers to three or four places a day on their 3,100-km journey.

Mr Milosevic has limited his campaigning to staged TV appearances, performing such activities as opening power plants, and yesterday visiting a car and weapons factory, south of Belgrade. The factory, destroyed by Nato bombs, has been partly restored. People are reportedly paid or bribed with packed lunches to show up.

Mr Kostunica has been banned from appearing on RTS the national broadcaster, but he appears to be drawing genuine grassroots support. When he visits remote villages, people offer traditional bread and salt or fruit in welcome. "He is an ordinary man, honest, decent" said Milan Dimic, 44, a driver who was at a DOS rally last week among a crowd of 15,000. "He talks no nonsense."

The candidate's modest note seems to have struck a chord with many Serbs whose daily lives have been dramatically impoverished under the Milosevic regime. Mr Kostunica, never a communist, shuns the language of Mr Milosevic, who likes to tell Serbs they are invincible and superior.

The DOS candidate speaks of the need for hard work, the decontamination of a corrupt society, and of re-integration into Europe. There is no aggressive rhetoric, no defiance or hatred against non-Serbs.

But the warnings of international observers are being echoed by voters. "They'll steal the victory from him or do something nasty," said an elderly woman who greeted Mr Kostunica in Mr Milosevic's home town of Pozarevac. Only a few hundred people turned up at the main square, but many waved from their windows.

"It's because Marko's guys are around" she said. Mr Milosevic's son Marko, 26, owner of a bakery, hi-tech store, disco, amusement park and radio station, lives in Pozarevac.

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