West calls on 'broken backed' Milosevic to quit

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The Independent Online

The Yugoslav opposition last night claimed a resounding victory for their candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, in the presidential election on Sunday, but defiant supporters of Slobodan Milosevic declared their man was heading for a clear win.

The Yugoslav opposition last night claimed a resounding victory for their candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, in the presidential election on Sunday, but defiant supporters of Slobodan Milosevic declared their man was heading for a clear win.

The major Western nations piled on the pressure to drive President Milosevic from power, saying he had been routed in the elections, and that anything but a clear opposition victory would be a fraudulent sham. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said the Yugoslav leader was a "beaten, broken-backed president" whose best service to his people would be to leave power at once. As a mixture of exhilaration, confusion and fear gripped Belgrade in the aftermath of the vote, claims of the result conflicted wildly. Mr Milosevic himself remained silent, but Gorica Gajevic, secretary general of his ruling Socialist Party, said that with 37 per cent of the vote counted, Mr Milosevic led Mr Kostunica by 45 per cent to 40 per cent.

However, the Democratic Party of Serbia said that with almost two thirds of the vote counted, Mr Kostunica held a commanding 55 per cent to 35 per cent edge advantage -- an overall majority which, if confirmed, would remove the need for a run-off vote on 8 October.

One theory last night was that Mr Milosevic would seek a second vote, which could offer a two-week breathing space in which to gather his battered forces. But his precise intentions were a mystery amid signs he was struggling to come to terms with a stunning poll defeat and the greatest threat to his 13 years in power.

No official results are expected until today at the earliest but, ominously, opposition monitors on the government's electoral commission said the body appeared not to be processing results yesterday - increasing suspicions that the outcome would be manipulated by the Milosevic camp.

With uncertainty swirling over the cornered president's intentions, the verbal offensive by Britain, France, the United States and other Nato members was clearly co-ordinated. It was designed to discredit in advance any victory that might be claimed by the Milosevic camp as nothing more than blatant vote-rigging, and to embolden demonstrators as they took to the streets again to demand recognition of a Kostunicavictory.

Initial post-election rallies in the capital and other cities went off peacefully on Sunday. But last night's were expected to be tenser affairs, with the possibility of violence that would provide a pretext for a security clampdown. Fears also persisted that despite warnings from the West, Mr Milosevic might seek to provoke a showdown in Montenegro, Serbia's sole and independent-minded sister republic in the rump of Yugoslavia, which boycotted the vote.

In Washington, a National Security Council spokesman insisted that opinion polls, a high turn-out and evidence of vote-tampering ruled out any "credible claim of victory" by Mr Milosevic. The only dissenting voice came from Russia, which refused yesterday to prejudge the outcome, saying the voting appeared to have been fair.

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