Milosevic's career may be extended by Serb parliament

 

The future influence of Mr Slobodan Milosevic under Yugoslavia's new President will become clearer today after a crucial meeting of the parliament of Serbia - the larger of the two republics in the federation.

Serbia's assembly is dominated by Mr Milosevic's left coalition, which governs with the far-right Radical Party. If that government holds, then Mr Milosevic will continue to wield considerable sway in Yugoslav politics.

"We need elections in Serbia and we need democratic institutions on the level of Serbia, only then will it be finished," said Mr Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party and one of the main backers of the new President, Dr Vojislav Kostunica.

One major boost for the new President is likely to come in Brussels today, when the European Union is expected to start lifting the sanctions.

Mr Kostunica spent his first day in office yesterday seeking to prevent further disintegration of the federation. "In reality, reconciliation between Serbia and Montenegro is the task of tasks," he told the state news agency Tanjug, in his first interview since taking office.

His comments came amid signs that Serbia's junior partner, Montenegro, and ethnic Albanians in the breakaway province of Kosovo, welcomed the change of president but did not see it as a solution to the issue of their national status.

The Montenegrin President, Mr Milo Djukanovic, said Milosevic's departure removed the immediate threat of armed intervention by Belgrade in his tiny republic. But he stressed the need to reassess Podgorica's federal status, downgraded by Belgrade in July.

"Montenegro faces two possibilities nowadays: to reach an accord on relations with Serbia within the Yugoslav federation or to form an independent state," he said on Saturday.

Mr Djukanovic, who boycotted the federal elections on September 24th and skipped Mr Kostunica's swearing-in ceremony in Belgrade, said he was ready to negotiate with the self-proclaimed moderate nationalist, "not as president of Yugoslavia, but as the representative of the democratic majority in Serbia.

"If a reply along these lines does not arrive in time, it is clear that Montenegro will take the road to independence," he warned.

But Mr Kostunica warned against "new temptations after this historic moment", a clear reference to Montenegro's separatist ambitions. "We will make the joint community between Serbia and Montenegro stronger than ever," he vowed in his inauguration speech on Saturday night.

In Kosovo, leaders of the ethnic Albanian majority stressed that the new presidency would not end their calls for independence.

"The arrival of Mr Kostunica in power is certainly a step towards democracy and the beginning of a new era in the Balkans," said Mr Hashim Thaci, former political head of the KLA guerrilla movement and now head of the Democratic Party of Kosovo. "But that doesn't change things much for Kosovo. We want to be independent."

Mr Kostunica and his Democratic Opposition of Serbia also began tackling the economic situation. Mr Mladjan Dinkic, of the transitional crisis committee, said Yugoslavia will need $500 million in international aid in the first year.

The international community pledged reconstruction aid, welcoming Mr Kostunica's victory as sweeping away what the visiting Norwegian Foreign Minister, Mr Thorbjoern Jagland, described as Europe's "last pocket of authoritarian and nationalistic rule".