Serbs trade abuse in power struggle: Ultra-nationalist MPs launch no-confidence vote against Socialist government

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SERBIA lurched into a winter of political instability yesterday as the erstwhile nationalist allies of President Slobodan Milosevic fought to overthrow his government in a no-confidence vote and force new elections.

Deputies of the ultra-nationalist Radical Party led by Vojislav Seselj stand little chance of kicking Mr Milosevic's Socialists out of office in a parliamentary show of hands.

But the vote marks only the beginning of what promises to be a ferocious struggle between Mr Milosevic and his once-slavish underlings, unfolding against a backdrop of hyperinflation, empty shops and queues for soup kitchens and bread. Hurling abuse at each other across the parliamentary floor, Radical and Socialist MPs have accused each other of crimes such as high treason, fascism, profiteering, war crimes and corruption.

At a widely publicised press conference on the eve of the vote, held by the rump Yugoslavia's small Communist Party, now informally allied to the Socialists, speakers attacked Mr Seselj for grovelling on the ground during a Muslim artillery attack in the north Bosnian town of Brcko. They accused his cronies of 'behaving like body-snatchers' by looting more than 6,000 cars, railway engines and tanks from captured Bosnian towns and even of ripping out gold fillings from the teeth of captured Muslim and Croatian soldiers.

Socialist party chiefs have gleefully promised to reveal dossiers containing many more atrocities committed by the Radicals if they persist in their campaign to unseat Serbia's paramount leader.

No less combative, the Radicals accuse Mr Milosevic's Socialist minions of wrecking the economy and planning to sell the Serb-held Krajina region of Croatia to Zagreb. They are demanding the sacking of generals and the head of the national bank, the right to set up a pro-Radical television station called Fatherland TV, and the unification of Serbia with Serb-held lands in Bosnia and Croatia.

The end of the love affair between the Socialists and the Radicals has long been expected by Serbia-watchers. Mr Milosevic built up the neo-fascist Radicals, using them as a hammer against liberals and anti-war groups who were getting in the way of the war to create a Greater Serbia from the ruins of Bosnia and parts of Croatia.

But now that Greater Serbia is in the bag and Belgrade controls two-thirds of Bosnia and 30 per cent of Croatia, Mr Seselj has become a liability. Mr Milosevic feels he can do without his Nazi-style rants on the need to exterminate racial minorities, especially if sanctions on Yugoslavia are to be lifted.

But like Frankenstein's monster, Mr Seselj has ambitions of his own and refuses to fade away. Although precise figures are hard to come by, he is believed to command a sizeable force of armed supporters, including hardened fighters from the Bosnian and Croatian battle fronts.

The clash could not come at a worse time for Mr Milosevic, who is facing serious problems after Muslims rejected the Geneva peace plan for Bosnia. 'He has been left without a trump card for the early elections he planned, a Serb state in Bosnia and the easing of international sanctions,' said one political commentator.

(Photograph omitted)