Karadzic allies weaken Bosnia's president

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The shadow of Radovan Karadzic threatened to blow apart the political establishment in Serb-controlled Bosnia this weekend, as supporters of the former leader turned fugitive from international justice became locked in a bitter power struggle with the Bosnian Serb President, Biljana Plavsic.

Mrs Plavsic, who has denounced Mr Karadzic as the mastermind behind a mafioso smuggling ring that is in effect running the local economy, attempted to quell the hardliners last week by dissolving the Bosnian Serb parliament, where Mr Karadzic's friends hold a slim majority.

But this weekend her rivals snubbed her decision by convening parliament anyway and passing a slew of decisions weakening the president's powers and paving the way for a referendum to dismiss her.

While Mr Karadzic's acoloytes, who include the Serbian member of the three-man Bosnian presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, enjoy strength through numbers, Mrs Plavsic has thesupport of the international community, particularly the Americans, in recognition of her recent pro-Western positions and her desire to open Serb Bosnia to the outside world.

She and Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, had a meeting last month which appears to have strengthened her resolve to crack down on petrol and cigarette smuggling that Mr Karadzic is believed to be running in cahoots with the Interior Ministry. Last week, Mrs Plavsic attempted to dismiss the Interior Minister, Dragan Kijac, only to be given the third- degree at a party meeting in Bijeljina.

Mr Karadzic has kept a low profile since the end of the Bosnian war, but escaped capture on war crimes charges largely thanks to the nonchalant attitude of the international peace-keeping force. According to the Los Angeles Times this weekend, US policy on his capture is changing and the CIA has a plan awaiting presidential approval to hunt him down and arrest him.