Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal, was fighting for his political survival yesterday after succumbing to intense international pressure not to stand in Bosnia's first post-war elections next September.
One week after indicating his intention to run for re-election as president of Republika Srpska, the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia, Mr Karadzic has been forced to back down in the face of what his Prime Minister, Gojko Klickovic, called "horrible pressures exerted by the international community and Yugoslavia [Serbia and Montenegro]".
The decisive factor appears to have been a threat by President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia to restore sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs unless Mr Karadzic withdrew from the elections. Mr Milosevic has in turn been under US pressure to force Mr Karadzic out of power or face renewed international isolation.
Mr Karadzic is still doing his utmost to avoid going on trial at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, where a public hearing opened yesterday against him and his military commander, General Ratko Mladic.
In exchange for not standing in the elections, Mr Karadzic wants to remain as president until polling day on 14 September and aims to retain the leadership of the ruling Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). In his view, these arrangements are conditional upon Western security guarantees for Republika Srpska and upon an assurance that international arbitration over the control of the contested northern Bosnian town of Brcko should go in the Serbs' favour.
Carl Bildt, the international High Representative for Bosnia, dismissed Mr Karadzic's conditions as unacceptable.
US officials said that even if Mr Karadzic was now "marginalised" on the political scene, this was not the same as his "unconditional removal from power" and transfer to The Hague for trial - both of which are stipulated in the Dayton accord.