Milosevic allies agree to submit to December poll

Yugoslavia's new President, Dr Vojislav Kostunica, consolidated his hold on key institutions of state yesterday and won agreement…

Yugoslavia's new President, Dr Vojislav Kostunica, consolidated his hold on key institutions of state yesterday and won agreement for early elections to establish a new Serbian republic government - the main power base within the federation.

Dr Kostunica also received a boost from the international community, after the European Union lifted an oil embargo on Yugoslavia, though it said it would not immediately start major reconstruction aid.

The republic government is currently dominated by the Socialist Party (SPS) of Mr Slobodan Milosevic and the Yugoslav Left party of his wife, Ms Mira Markovic.

The agreement of the SPS to have new elections is an implicit acknowledgement of their collapsed popularity.


The decision by all parties in the Serb parliament to hold a national poll on December 17th defused a threat that Mr Milosevic's allies could use their grip on the country's pre-eminent assembly to thwart the popular will for sweeping change.

"It has been agreed that early parliamentary elections will be held on December 17th," said Mr Zoran Djindjic, a leader in the coalition of former opposition parties backing the new president.

Within the hour, Milosevic protege Mr Momir Bulatovic resigned as prime minister of Yugoslavia - viewed as a puppet role for the ousted regime - and the federal government he led was dissolved.

The main parties also reached agreement in principle on forming a transitional Serbian government of experts, the pattern sought by Dr Kostunica for both levels.

The convergent moves were central to Dr Kostunica's bid to steady his country following the mass protests that last week forced Mr Milosevic to bow out.

"I think it's very important. I think today we are much nearer an end to the crisis than we were yesterday," Mr Djindjic said.

But to gain full control, "Dr Kostunica needs a majority in a new Serbian parliament, through December's election, the only thing that can finally resolve our problems," he added.

The complex constitution of Marshall Tito's old Yugoslav federation, designed to maintain a careful balance of power among six diverse republics, is a labyrinth of interlocking powers, like a booby-trap not meant to be easily dismantled.

Altered recently by Mr Milosevic in a move to preserve his hold on power, it could still have been used to negate Dr Kostunica's popular mandate.

Mr Milosevic is thought to be still in the country. But son Marko, a despised playboy who got rich during his father's authoritarian rule, is believed to be back in Moscow after flying to Beijing only to be denied entry to China. His uncle, Mr Borislav Milosevic is Yugoslav ambassador in Moscow.