Milosevic rival calls for fresh elections

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The Independent Online
THE BEST-KNOWN Serb opposition leader, Vuk Draskovic, called yesterday for a softly-softly approach to wooing voters loyal to President Slobodan Milosevic. He demanded fresh elections, and said: "We must avoid civil war."

The opposition could, however, be seen to be dangerously split - even before the regime shows any sign of crumbling in response to the demonstrations in towns and cities across Serbia in recent days.

Mr Draskovic, a government minister until he was sacked for his outspokenness during the Nato bombing, told The Independent it would be wrong to alienate traditional supporters of Mr Milosevic. "They voted because they believed. Now they realise it was a lie. Allow them to change sides. Embrace them, kiss them - don't threaten them," he said.

Mr Draskovic was one of the main leaders of the Zajedno ("Together") coalition that brought hundreds of thousands on to the streets of Belgrade in 1996 and 1997. Now he has launched a go-it-alone policy, which in effect seeks to sideline the other main Serb opposition group, the Democratic Party.

In some respects, Mr Draskovic, leader of the Serb Renewal Movement, seemed to hint at rapprochement, perhaps to avoid a repeat of the bitter arguments that followed the collapse of the protests two years ago. He declared: "None of those who lead the Alliance for Change [an umbrella group in which the Democratic Party plays the leading role] is our opponent. Slobodan Milosevic is our opponent."

Until now, he has kept his distance from calls by the Alliance for Change for the Yugoslav leader to step down. Yesterday, he insisted: "I need his resignation not tomorrow - but by yesterday."

This is not a united front, however. The opposition rally called by Mr Draskovic on Saturday looks likely to become a contest between the two wings of the opposition, more than a test of strength against Mr Milosevic.

Mr Draskovic and his main rival, Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party, are invol- ved in a faintly ludicrous leapfrogging contest. The Alliance for Change announced a rally in Kragujevac for next Tuesday; Mr Draskovic then announced a rally three days earlier, on Saturday; yesterday, the Democrats brought their rally forward to tomorrow.

This "my crowd is bigger than your crowd" argument will give Mr Milosevic reason to feel pleased with life for the first time in weeks. The tactics are unlikely to endear either Mr Draskovic or Mr Djindjic to the protesters.

The bitter truth is that the Serb opposition has no leaders who enjoy widespread respect. The failure of the mass protests of winter 1996 has left people disillusioned with all politicians.

Mr Djindjic sat out the Nato bombing in the relative safety of the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro and abroad - while Belgrade was describing him as a traitor. Mr Draskovic has charisma, but even his most loyal supporters would admit consistency is not his strong point. At different times he has been a Serb nationalist, a committed pro-European, an ally of Mr Milosevic and a fierce critic of Mr Milosevic. In spring 1997, he abandoned the opposition for a tactical alliance with the Yugoslav leader.