Serb opposition wary after poll retreat

Balkan turbulence: MPs in Belgrade vote to restore opposition victories, while anarchy looms in Vlora

Belgrade - Serbia's democratic opposition gained its first major triumph over President Slobodan Milosevic yesterday as parliament reinstated its victories in local elections.

But the opposition leader, Vuk Draskovic, said that even after three months of constant protest and pressure, the Serb leader could not be trusted to fully implement the special bill finally recognising the vote on 17 November. Parliament, where Mr Milosevic's Socialists and their allies hold a majority, voted 128-0 in favour of the bill. There were two abstentions.

Although the Serb parliament was acting on the orders of the president the debate dragged on late into the evening. Of the 250 lawmakers, only 130 were present. The opposition boycotted the session, and the ultra- nationalist Radical Party also skipped the vote.

The sceptical comments by Mr Draskovic came while parliament debated the bill, which gave the three-party Zajedno (Together) opposition alliance control of Belgrade and 13 other major cities and towns in Serbia. It closed one chapter in the opposition's struggle and opened another - its attempt to drive Mr Milosevic from power in republic elections scheduled later this year.

Mr Milosevic is barred by Serbia's constitution from seeking a third term, but the opposition fears he may use legal tricks to stay in power.

Despite the triumph, the opposition still was suspicious of how Mr Milosevic might manoeuvre to stay in power.

"We have to remain cautious and doubtful," Mr Draskovic said. "We have to see how the law is implemented."

Mr Milosevic conceded the opposition victory only last week, after nearly three months of street protests and foreign pressure, the biggest challenge yet to his autocratic rule. He ordered the government to prepare legislation reinstating opposition gains that had been confirmed by an international review. The opposition said a special law was not necessary.

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