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Serbs fear new poll tricks

Hundreds of riot police again lined up in the centre of Belgrade yesterday, as popular demonstrations against the Serbian regime continued. The opposition is wary that President Slobodan Milosevic is trying to trap the opposition into an early retreat from its sustained opposition to the regime. There were several signs yesterday that the wariness is justified.

The Belgrade electoral commission ruled on Tuesday that the elections, which the opposition won in November, were valid after all. The elections had been officially ruled invalid, because the opposition won by a landslide. Despite this week's apparently historic retreat, opposition leaders still fear further official tricks. The electoral commission announced yesterday that its report on the elections would only be sent to the parties today, and that parties can appeal within 48 hours after that.

Until yesterday, the opposition had assumed that the 48-hour period of leave to appeal would end, not begin, today. In short, there is still room for further shenanigans.

The students, who have spearheaded the protests since the beginning, had an additional reason to be furious. The hardline rector of Belgrade University, Dragutin Velickovic, yesterday retained his position after a long crisis meeting - despite earlier official promises that he would be removed.

For the students, the issue of the hated Mr Velickovic has been crucial, since the start of the demonstrations in November - sharing almost equal billing with the question of the election results. The results of yesterday's meeting enraged the students, thousands of whom gathered outside the main university building in the city centre.