Poll chaos after Panic is barred

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The Independent Online
SERBIA'S presidential election campaign was plunged into chaos yesterday after the republic's election commission expelled the moderate Yugoslav Prime Minister, Milan Panic, from the race.

'It is insane. It is unfair. Above all, it is unconstitutional. I will not accept such a slap to democracy,' Mr Panic said in a statement. 'It is clear today that those who rule Serbia are afraid of free and honest elections.'

The move to ban the only serious challenger to Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader, provoked outrage among opposition parties. They threatened to boycott the poll on 20 December and even take to the streets in protest if the decision is not reversed.

Caslav Ignjatovic, chairman of the election commission, rejected Mr Panic's candidacy on the grounds that the Serbian-born millionaire lacked the correct residency papers. He claimed that Mr Panic, who has dual US and Yugoslav citizenship, was only a temporary resident in Yugoslavia, and lacked the permanent residency papers required by law.

He advised Mr Panic to file a complaint within 48 hours to the Supreme Court of Serbia. But as Mr Ignjatovic is simultaneously chairman of the court, Mr Panic's chances of seeing the ban reversed in that chamber look slim.

A bill requiring presidential candidates to prove they are permanent residents in Serbia was pushed through parliament by Milosevic supporters less than a month ago, in a pre-emptive strike against a Panic challenge.