Socialist infighting over fate of former president

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The Independent Online

The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), dominated for 10 years by Slobodan Milosevic, is fighting for political survival amid signs of fierce infighting over the fate of the ousted president.

The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), dominated for 10 years by Slobodan Milosevic, is fighting for political survival amid signs of fierce infighting over the fate of the ousted president.

In an indication of the chaos in party ranks, Mr Milosevic's smiling campaign picture was excised from the party's homepage (www.sps.org.yu) last weekend. By Monday morning his image had been restored.

Branches of the party in Belgrade and other Serb cities want him out. The head of the Belgrade branch, Ivica Dacic, said: "The people gave us a slap in the face in the elections and afterwards. We have to learn the lesson."

Zoran Lilic, a former highSPS official who left his post in August, said: "Milosevic should resign as head of the party after this debacle. The SPS brought this country to the verge of civil war after the elections."

So far, only Gorica Gajevic, the powerful SPS secretary general and one of the closest Milosevic aides, has resigned, forced out at an emergency session of the SPS executive. Members set a date for a party congress on 25 November.

Mr Milosevic, his whereabouts still undisclosed, appears to have lost his ability to pull strings behind the scenes. If he was in control, SPS members say, Ms Gajevic would have clung to her post.

The man tipped as a potential new leader is Milorad Vuc-elic, sacked as an SPS official by Mr Milosevic in 1998. "The SPS can find a place in Serbia's political life if it becomes a modern party of the left, but that will require radical changes at the top," he says. "The SPS has to see itself as a constructive opposition from now on, or it will be erased."

The SPS, which claims up to 500,000 card-carrying members, is a restyled communist party, and, under normal circumstances, could expect to capture 15 per cent of the vote.

Mr Vucelic says the "unnatural marriage" of his party with the JUL, the neo-Marxist party led by Mr Milosevic's wife, Mira, ruined the SPS. "They ruled with arrogance and terror," he says.

The JUL imposed itself on the ruling coalition, its members driven by a greed to control state-run enterprises. Analysts believe the SPS has so many skeletons in its cupboard it has no choice but to cause chaos for the new government.

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