By DUSAN STOJANOVIC
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia – Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic today defied international calls for him to step down and claimed enough votes to force a runoff election.
The opposition, led by law professor Vojislav Kostunica, has insisted it won the election outright, and the political crisis could escalate if the opposition rejects the call. One opposition leader said the announcement of the Oct. 8 runoff was “a big fraud.”
The State Election Commission announced today that Kostunica finished first in the weekend presidential elections but without enough votes to avoid a runoff with Milosevic, state television said.
The commission said Kostunica won 48.22 percent of the vote in Sunday’s ballot to 40.23 for Milosevic.
“In short, in the presidential elections there will be a second round,” TV said.
The statement broke the commission’s silence since the Sunday ballot. Opposition leaders had expressed concern that the silence was to give the government time to fabricate bogus votes from Kosovo, where the United Nations permitted Serbs to vote.
Earlier today, the United States pledged to lead an international campaign to pressure Milosevic to accept an apparent opposition victory and step down from the power he has wielded for 13 years.
Reacting to the commission’s announcement, opposition leader Zoran Djindjic said: “We are dealing with a big fraud and falsifying of results. We were aware of their intentions because it was obvious they were cooking up something to get Milosevic in the second round at least. But we have firm evidence in our hands and we will defend the will of the people till the end.”
There had been fears of public unrest if the government sought to claim a Milosevic victory or call a runoff.
“Milosevic is consistent in claiming victory and it might mean he’s not just going to walk away,” said Dragisa Burzan, a deputy prime minister in Montenegro, the small republic that along with Serbia forms Yugoslavia.
Before the announcement, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia released its own tally based what it said was on 97.5 percent of the ballots. It showed Kostunica leading with 55 percent to Milosevic’s 35 percent. The figures are said to be based on reports by the opposition’s poll watchers who monitor the count at the precinct level.
Today the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, met Kostunica and urged the ruling coalition “to accept the electoral will of the people and contribute to the welfare of the nation and the state.”
Patriarch Pavle “called on everyone, including the army and police, to defend the interests of people and the state rather than individuals,” according to a statement released by the church.
The United States and most Western European countries made clear today that they thought Kostunica had won. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was time for Milosevic to leave.
“I say to Milosevic: You lost,” Blair told a Labor Party meeting. “Go. Your country and the world has suffered enough.”
Before the announcement, Defense Secretary William Cohen said the United States would not stand by and watch Milosevic steal the election.
“I think the international community will look very closely, carefully and bring whatever pressure it can for Milosevic to abide by the will of his people,” Cohen told reporters at the Pentagon. “The people want Milosevic out. Certainly the international community would welcome that result.”
Just 150 miles northwest of Yugoslavia’s pro-Western republic of Montenegro, U.S. and Croat held naval exercises today, including a simulated Marine landing on an island in the Adriatic Sea. It was part of their largest and most demanding joint exercise to date.
Capt. William Crow, commander of the USS Austin, said the exercise was planned months ago and was unrelated to the Yugoslav elections.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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