Norway bitumen for opposition-run Serbian towns

BELGRADE, Aug 21, 2000 -- (Reuters) Norway has sent the first shipments of road-building bitumen to five opposition-run towns in Serbia as part of the "Asphalt for Democracy" program, the Norwegian envoy in Belgrade said on Sunday.

The scheme follows the "Energy for Democracy" program aimed at encouraging political change by compensating ordinary people for last year's NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia, while maintaining sanctions to punish President Slobodan Milosevic.

Sverre Bergh Johansen, Norwegian charge d'affaires, said Oslo would deliver a total of 1,300 tons of bitumen, used to produce asphalt, worth 700,000 German marks. The first shipments arrived on August 17 in Novi Sad, Kraljevo, Trstenik, Lucani and Bajina Basta.

"Cooperation agreements have been concluded with a further four cities. A total of nine cities in Serbia will receive bitumen from Norway," he told a news conference.

Mladjan Dinkic, the coordinator of the G17 Plus independent think tank which proposed and cooperated in the scheme, said Germany would also participate in the project.

"I hope that the Norwegian asphalt will help bridge the (opposition's) present differences over participation in the local elections," Dinkic said.

The Serbian opposition, hoping to oust Milosevic in the September 24 presidential and federal elections and to retain control of a number of towns in local polls, has remained splintered despite Western calls to join forces.

Mladomir Novakovic, mayor of the central Serbian city of Kraljevo, said the aid had arrived just in time.

"The aid has come at the right time, when it is necessary to dispel the people's belief that the entire world and the whole of Europe have turned against the Serbs as the regime claims," Novakovic said.

Milosevic's government has blasted the West and what it calls its lackeys at home, saying they are bent on destabilizing the country after failing to do so through the NATO air strikes.

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