Milosevic foes claim landslide election victory in Serbia

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - Pro-democracy forces claimed sweeping victory Saturday in Serbia's parliamentary elections, declaring that they now have a mandate to remove the last vestiges of Slobodan Milosevic's regime in Yugoslavia's main republic.

The Democratic Opposition of Serbia, led by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, announced it had won about 64 percent of the vote, compared to about 13 percent for Milosevic's Socialists. The ultranationalist Radical Party trailed with about 8 percent in the elections in Serbia, the larger of two republics that make up Yugoslavia.

The DOS claim was based on a count of about 40 percent of the votes. The Socialists confirmed the results, drawing some comfort from the fact that they will be the largest single party in the parliament because DOS is an 18-party coalition that many political observers expect to break up in the coming year.

''Those who did everything to make the Socialists disappear from the political scene were not right,'' Socialist Party general-secretary Zoran Andjelkovic said. ''I'm sure we'll have 20 percent of the votes in the end.''

The biggest loser was the neo-communist Yugoslav Left Party of Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, which won less than 1 percent of the vote, the initial, unofficial results showed.

Exit polls and unofficial returns also showed that the Serbian Renewal Movement led by Vuk Draskovic - for years the undisputed leader of the anti-Milosevic movement - won only 4 percent of the vote, not enough to make it into parliament. Draskovic's party had refused to join the Kostunica coalition.

If the election results hold, Serbia will have its first non-Socialist government in half a century, since World War II.

''We can already say that we have won overwhelmingly,'' said Democratic Opposition of Serbia spokesman Cedomir Jovanovic. ''This is a great moment for our country.''

The Center for Free Elections and Democracy, a leading non-governmental monitoring group that conducted exit polls, predicted that in the 250-member parliament, Kostunica's coalition would take 176 seats, the Socialists 36, the Radicals 23 and - in the biggest surprise - 15 seats would go to the Serbian Unity Party of indicted war crimes suspect Zeljko Raznatovic, also known as Arkan, who was assassinated in Belgrade in January.

Official returns were not expected until Sunday.

''It's pretty clear we have won,'' said Zoran Djindjic, a Kostunica ally who was slated to become Serbia's new prime minister if the coalition wins. ''We will win the elections, but a huge job comes afterward.''

The election afforded Kostunica the opportunity to complete the revolution set in motion when he defeated Milosevic for the federal presidency Sept. 24. Milosevic refused to accept the result and called for a runoff, triggering riots Oct. 5 that forced him to concede defeat.

Milosevic's allies continued to control the government of Serbia, which accounts for more than 90 percent of Yugoslavia's population of 10 million. The Serbian government also controls the key levers of power such as the judiciary and the 60,000-strong Serbian police.

''Democratic reconstruction of Serbia and Yugoslavia will be completed after these elections,'' Kostunica said as he cast his ballot. ''We are continuing what we began in September. I am convinced that the results will enable us to carry on with the work ... to rebuild the country.''

All recent surveys had predicted that Kostunica's coalition would win an overwhelming majority and relegate Milosevic's once-dominant Socialists to the fringes.

Without a strong party to back him, Milosevic, who has been indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal, is now vulnerable to prosecution in Serbia for 13 years of rule that impoverished Yugoslavia and turned it into a pariah state.

Initial reports indicated voter turnout was about 60 percent, about 10 percent less than in September's Yugoslav elections, according to poll watchers.

Marko Blagojevic, an official with the Center for Free Elections and Democracy, said the organization's observers noticed no major irregularities. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also said the vote went smoothly.

During Milosevic's era, irregularities were common.

A rare controversy at the polls was caused by invisible spray that was applied to the fingers of voters to prevent multiple voting. Many elderly voters refused to cast their ballots after rumors that the spray was radioactive and caused impotence, the center said.

Barely more than an hour after polls opened, Milosevic cast his ballot with his wife in the upscale Dedinje district in Belgrade, where he still lives in a villa under heavy security.

Escorted by several bodyguards, the gloomy-looking Milosevic declined to comment to reporters, saying only, ''I wish all a Happy New Year.''

Ethnic Albanians in both Kosovo and in areas of southern Serbia bordering the province boycotted the vote. A great majority of them want independence. They consider the elections invalid.

In Kosovo's capital, Pristina, hundreds of ethnic Albanians demonstrated Saturday in front of U.N. headquarters to protest a decision by international officials to allow Kosovo Serbs to vote.


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