By JOVANA GEC
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia – Slobodan Milosevic deepened the political crisis in Yugoslavia today, confirming he will take part in runoff presidential elections despite claims of a first-round victory by a pro-democracy challenger and opposition threats of a general strike.
In a show of confidence, Milosevic summoned his closest Socialist Party associates for a meeting that focused on “immediate tasks” ahead of the Oct. 8 second round of the presidential vote, government-sponsored television reported.
“The presidential elections will go into the second round,” said Milosevic’s top aide, Nikola Sainovic. “We will do our best so that our candidate wins.”
Milosevic’s move signals he has no intention to back down and recognize an apparent victory of the opposition candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, as demanded by the opposition and dozens of international officials, including President Clinton.
The opposition threatened today to call a general strike, shutting down schools, offices and other public institutions until Milosevic steps aside.
The scope of such a boycott is questionable, since the state services and economy have been in disarray for years. The opposition has tried public disobedience campaigns in the past, but they have never really worked.
Announcing final results of the Sunday vote, the Federal Electoral Commission said just before midnight Wednesday that Kostunica earned 48.96 percent of the vote to 38.62 percent for Milosevic. That would require a runoff Oct. 8.
The opposition, however, using figures from its poll watchers, claims Kostunica won 52.54 percent to Milosevic’s 32.01 percent.
“The election process is going on in accordance with the law,” Sainovic said dismissing opposition claims. “The Socialists will respect the decisions of legal bodies.”
Critics fear Milosevic might cite the “legality” of the federal commission’s announcement, and use force against any future opposition demonstrations.
Encouraged by the enormous popular support for Kostunica at an opposition rally Wednesday, a key opposition leader, Zoran Djindjic, warned “we shall seek to paralyze all institutions, schools, theaters, cinemas, offices … call everyone onto the streets and stay on the streets until he who wants to be president by force gives up his post.”
Key officials in Kostunica’s coalition conducted emergency talks. In a statement issued after the meeting they pledged to “defend the truth and the democratic will of our people,” but failed to outline any specific strategy.
Declaring that “Kostunica was elected Yugoslav president in the first round of the elections,” the opposition leaders once again called on the members of the Federal Electoral Commission to “publicly acknowledge the true election results.”
The influential Serbian Orthodox Church recognized Kostunica’s election victory and addressed him as “president-elect.” The church holds no direct political power in Yugoslavia, but its dictates hold great moral sway in a population that recognizes it as a pillar of rectitude in a corrupt society.
In Montenegro, the pro-Western Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic also recognized Kostunica’s win, insisting that Milosevic must no longer manipulate the will of the people.
Support for Kostunica’s victory claim grew after more than 200,000 people swarmed the capital’s downtown district in a major demonstration of support for their leader. There was no visible police presence near the crowd.
Belgrade’s ally Russia, however, warned Western countries not to interfere. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Moscow “stands firmly for the peoples of Yugoslavia to have full freedom to express their will without internal or external pressure” and urged other countries “not to allow destabilization of the situation.”
Milosevic faced new troubles, meanwhile, within his governing coalition. The ultranationalist Serb Radical Party demanded a reshuffling of the government and the dismissal of a key Milosevic aide, Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic.
The party’s leader, Vojislav Seselj, said he will demand Stojiljkovic’s resignation at the assembly meeting Saturday because of his alleged corruption, misuse of authority and incompetence.
Stojiljkovic is a top aide of Milosevic. After the bloody offensives last year by Serb government troops against ethnic Albanian separatists in the province of Kosovo, both were indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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