People power rules as Milosevic folds

By JEFFREY SMITH

The Washington Post

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia – Slobodan Milosevic, yielding to an extraordinary citizens’ uprising, surrendered power Friday after 13 years of heavy-handed rule and conceded in a television address that opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica is the new president of Yugoslavia.

“I congratulate Mr. Kostunica on his electoral victory,” said the exhausted-looking Milosevic, his hands clasped solemnly. “And I wish much success to all citizens of Yugoslavia.” But he dashed opponents’ hopes that he would go into exile or retirement, saying he planned to rest and then return to Yugoslav politics.

His address came a day after hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavs seized control of the parliament building, state media and other key institutions of power. It came hours after the foreign minister of Russia, one of the few countries to remain friendly through Milosevic’s long time in office, flew to Belgrade and told the Serbian leader that it was deserting him.

In yet another abandonment, commanders of the army made it clear Friday that they were siding with Kostunica. Army chief of staff Nebojsa Pavkovic, a former Milosevic crony, said Friday night that he was confident Kostunica will “overcome all the remaining problems in a civilized way and return the country to normalcy,” according to news reports.

Friday Kostunica met with Pavkovic and secured his backing before going to a meeting with Milosevic.

Milosevic’s brief television appearance marked the formal end of a reign in which fervent nationalism carried his country into four wars and left it an impoverished and pariah state. He hung on to power even after an international tribunal indicted him for alleged war crimes in the separatist Serbian province of Kosovo.

As he spoke Friday, opposition leaders were making plans for the first meeting of the new parliament toSday and for Kostunica’s formal inauguration.

Throngs of jubilant demonstrators remained in the streets of the capital. Firecrackers exploded and horns honked in victory. At the parliament building, people gathered to greet the newly elected opposition mayor of Belgrade, Milan Protic.

By evening, many streets had emptied out, resuming a look of normalcy.

Milosevic addressed the nation after the country’s constitutional court declared Kostunica the winner in the elections. The court reversed a decision it had made two days earlier when it voided the election. The new ruling provided a legal pretext for Milosevic to quit.

His speech caused relief across Belgrade; many people feared he might try to send the army out in a desperate bid to turn back the revolt. In parts of the city Friday, opposition supporters were seen carrying rifles in case of a confrontation.

In his speech, Milosevic showed characteristic flashes of defiance, saying he still intended to retain a role in the political life of Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic. “I intend to rest a bit and spend some more time with my family and especially with my grandson Marko,” said Milosevic, “and after that to help my party gain force and contribute to future prosperity.”

“And I am sure they will gain strength to such an extent that they will win convincingly in the next elections,” he said.

The United States quickly rejected the notion that Milosevic would remain in politics. “This is something we cannot support,” said national security adviser Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger. “He is still an indicted war criminal and has to be accountable, we believe, for his actions.”

Friday Kostunica appeared on a television show, taking questions from citizens, an unthinkable act of openness in the Milosevic era. Asked about the meeting with Milosevic, he said, “I think of it as something positive, because there was so much fear about the peaceful transfer of power.”

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