Fears grow over YU vote as Europe steps in

BELGRADE, Sep 19, 2000 -- (Reuters) Europe offered Serbs a new carrot on Monday to vote down their long-term leader Slobodan Milosevic, but his domestic foes said he might cancel the September 24 elections.

Opinion polls indicate the Democratic Opposition of Serbia bloc led by Vojislav Kostunica has more support than Milosevic, presenting the first serious challenge in a decade in power.

In Brussels, the European Union sought to buttress that lead by offering to lift sanctions imposed over Belgrade's role in the violent break-up of Yugoslavia if Milosevic is replaced.

Kostunica has pledged to bring Yugoslavia back into Europe if he comes to power. But he says Milosevic cannot just be voted out and will either rig the result or cancel the election.

"There is a scenario that the elections won't be held," he told a rally on Sunday evening. "I have no idea how a peaceful transfer of power could come about."

Government officials have thrown the opposition's charges right back, saying it is they, backed by NATO, who will try to steal the presidential, parliamentary and local polls all due on Sunday and then use violence to win power.

"Ever since the NATO aggression came to an end, NATO villains have been trying to persuade Serbia's opposition leaders to stand united in their quest to accomplish what NATO bombs couldn't," the pro-government Politika newspaper said, referring to last year's NATO air strikes over Kosovo.

"Even stray cats know that Kostunica is a man loyal to the New World Order...He is supported by gays and lesbians, members of various non-government and feminist organizations," it said.


A former government minister claimed to have inside information that Milosevic's party was nervous about the vote and planned to conduct its own opinion poll this week among 10,000 people to see how it was likely to go.

Former Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Tijanic said it planned to "win" the elections by stuffing ballot boxes with hundreds of thousands of alleged votes from Kosovo Albanians - who are on voter lists but are expected to boycott the polls.

The UN administration in Kosovo said on Monday it had no word from the government on where the vote there would be held.

The former minister, who moved to Bosnia several months ago saying his life had been threatened in Belgrade, is believed to maintain contacts with the circle around Milosevic, who was indicted for war crimes in Kosovo by a UN court last year. But it was impossible to tell if his report was a genuine leak.

He said that if the government's opinion poll indicated that a Kosovo fraud would not be enough to close the gap with Kostunica, the elections would be put off. If they went ahead, the government would send in the army if protests took off.

Yugoslav army Chief of Staff Nebojsa Pavkovic called Milosevic a "courageous visionary" this weekend and said troops would prevent any "forcible power-grabbing" in the streets.

A source close to the Yugoslav military said the army had split up some of its units "in order to keep them uninformed and vulnerable to manipulation".

"Some garrisons have been moved from the barracks and cut off from all sources of information so that they are not tempted to think differently (from the ruling parties)," the source, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

Vojislav Mihailovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement, who is also challenging Milosevic for the presidency, saw trouble ahead. "They can provoke a major incident or a series of incidents on September 24, declare the elections irregular and stop them," he told a rally in Kragujevac, southern Serbia.

Original article