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Karadzic defies court by securing re-election

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, has defied international efforts to force his removal from power by securing re-election as the head of his ruling party and by retaining the title of president of the Bosnian Serb republic.

At a congress of the ruling Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), all but one of the 354 delegates re-elected Mr Karadzic to a four-year term as party leader. The vote was a clear violation of the Dayton peace settlement, which states that Mr Karadzic, as an indicted war criminal, must step down from all public posts and be handed over for trial at the United Nations tribunal in The Hague.

The party leadership is a powerful position affording Mr Karadzic control of the police, media and state administration. Mr Karadzic's grip on his other job, the presidency, appeared briefly in doubt yesterday when Carl Bildt, the Swedish official responsible for enforcing the Dayton accord, said the Bosnian Serb leader had handed over his presidential powers to his deputy, Biljana Plavsic.

But Ms Plavsic quickly contradicted Mr Bildt, commenting that until elections due on 14 September "Karadzic is the president and I am the vice-president". A copy of a letter that Mr Karadzic sent to Mr Bildt made clear that the Bosnian Serb leader regarded himself as having only temporarily delegated his powers to Ms Plavsic. Moreover, even if Mr Karadzic chooses not to stand for re-election to the presidency - he has issued conflicting signals in the last week, but must make a final announcement by next Thursday - it is evident that by hook or by crook he intends to retain as much political influence as possible in the Bosnian Serb arena.

The Group of Seven leading industrial countries, plus Russia, issued an ultimatum to Mr Karadzic at the weekend, saying he must resign all public posts immediately or face the reimposition of sanctions on the Bosnian Serb republic. However, even Mr Karadzic's departure might not change Bosnian Serb attitudes, as Ms Plavsic is just as opposed as Mr Karadzic to the Dayton accord and just as determined to prevent the reunification of Bosnia.

In the southern city of Mostar, partitioned by war into Muslim and Croat sectors, voters cast ballots yesterday to elect a unified city council. However, rival nationalist Muslim and Croat parties appeared likely to pick up most votes, making the task of uniting the city as difficult as ever.