CEOL - Serbian opposition walks out of meeting on elections

BELGRADE, Dec 16, 1999 -- (Reuters) Serbia's largest opposition party walked out of a meeting of a key parliamentary committee on Wednesday, saying the ruling coalition did not want to discuss its demand for early elections.

"They were clear they don't care for early elections," said Milan Mikovic, who heads the parliamentary group of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement.

The movement, the only opposition party with a significant number of deputies in the Serbian parliament, formally submitted a demand to the assembly last month for early polls at all levels.

The opposition sees such elections as one of the few possible ways of removing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whom it blames for isolation and economic hardship after a decade of Balkan wars.

The 16-member judiciary committee first met on November 25 without reaching a decision and the SPO had demanded a clear and immediate response from the ruling parties at Wednesday's session, saying it would otherwise take it as a rejection of the demand.

"We only asked for a decision on the initiation of a dialogue between the relevant opposition parties and authorities on fair and democratic early elections at all levels," Mikovic told reporters.

"The dialogue did not even start because the other side did not come out with its stand," Mikovic said. Party officials would now discuss what steps to take next, he said.

Parliamentary elections due in 2001

Parliamentary elections in Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic, are not due until 2001, with presidential elections the following year.

Officials of the ruling coalition have earlier said they see no need for early polls, arguing that there was no political crisis. But they have also said they were still prepared to discuss the opposition's demand for them.

Deputy Stevo Dragisic of the Radical party, a member of the coalition, said the Serbian Renewal Movement should send requests to the ruling parties if it wanted a debate with them, saying elections could also be discussed in inter-party talks.

Mikovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement did not say whether his party might now call on people to take to the streets to step up pressure on Milosevic, or whether it would continue to press for early elections in other ways.

"We do not want chaos...we do not want civil war," he said, rejecting such allegations by a senior official of the Yugoslav Left, one of three parties in the government coalition.

The Serbian Renewal Movement, led by maverick politician Vuk Draskovic, has so far refused to join daily street rallies across Serbia organized by another wing of the divided opposition, describing them as a waste of time.

The demonstrations, which were launched three months ago by the Alliance for Change, have run out of steam with only a few hundred demonstrators taking part at most.

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