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article imageThe Yugoslav Dictator Admits Defeat. Russia Supports Milosevic's Ouster

By Digital Journal Staff     Oct 6, 2000 in Technology
BELGRADE, YUGOSLAVIA - Ousted Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic conceded defeat Friday in the presidential elections, a day after protesters stormed Belgrade’s parliament in support of his legitimately-elected democratic rival.
Yugoslavia’s high court named Kostunica the election winner, powerful Yugoslav ally Russia offered its support and the army indicated to the president-elect that it would obey the new political authority.
"I congratulate Mr. Kostunica on his electoral victory and I wish much success to all citizens of Yugoslavia," Milosevic said in a television address. "I intend to rest a bit and spend some more time with my family and especially with my grandson Marko, and after that to help my party gain force and contribute to future prosperity."
Milosevic, heavily guarded in his Belgrade villa, had earlier greeted the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, with a confident handshake and indicated ominously that he did not intend to quit. Milosevic, a master of political manipulation, appeared to be playing for time in the hope of turning back, or at least diverting, the revolutionary tide.
But his television statement appeared to show that he had thrown in the towel, although his record of survival suggests he could still be a dangerous player on the political scene.
Earlier, the Yugoslav high court declared Kostunica the winner, consolidating his hold on power after a popular uprising swept away the pillars of Milosevic’s 13-year rule. Kostunica said he had made contact with armed forces commanders and they had agreed to "obey authority."
The two developments were crucial for democratic change in Yugoslavia. Milosevic had long counted the army and the courts as supporters of his authoritarian regime, and there had been fears that the army might intervene to restore Milosevic to power after huge crowds of Kostunica’s supporters seized parliament, state television and other institutions Thursday.
Kostunica told a television call-in show that his contacts with the army chiefs were "very encouraging," adding "I can assure you that we can be fully calm. The army accepted that it must obey authority. At this point, we have a very stable situation in the country."
Kostunica also said he spoke with Milosevic Friday for the first time since the crisis deepened but gave no details. Milosevic, whose whereabouts have been a mystery since Thursday’s street protests, met Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and denounced the unrest. He also signaled his intention to keep a role in Yugoslav politics.
"He said he intends to play a prominent role in the political life of the country," Ivanov said. The United States, which had cheered the prospect of a Balkans without Milosevic, rejected any future role for him in Yugoslav politics.
"This is something we cannot support," said Sandy Berger, the U.S. national security adviser. "He is still an indicted war criminal and has to be accountable, we believe, for his actions."
The government had acknowledged that Kostunica outpolled Milosevic in the five-candidate election on Sept. 24 but said he fell short of a majority, requiring a runoff. On Friday, Milosevic appeared to lose his last legal basis for keeping power when the Yugoslav Constitutional Court declared Kostunica the election winner.
Two days earlier, the same court had reportedly invalidated parts of the elections, a move the opposition had denounced as an attempt to buy time for Milosevic. Its reversal signaled that Milosevic had lost support in the courts, as well as the army and the media.
By accepting defeat, Milosevic could prevent a split between his party and its wing in Montenegro, which has already acknowledged Kostunica as the president-elect. If the Montenegrin wing backs Kostunica, he could have enough seats to keep Milosevic allies out of the government. But if the Montenegrins stick by Milosevic, the Yugoslav leader could maintain a strong voice in government. Montenegro and the larger, dominant Serbia make up the federation of Yugoslavia.
The move by Russia - the last major European nation to back Kostunica - won praise from an exultant U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
"This is great news," Albright said, giving a thumbs up. "We are very glad that Russia has now joined the rest of Europe and us in congratulating the victory of President Kostunica."
The United States and the European Union promised economic sanctions on Serbia - the dominant republic in Yugoslavia - would be lifted once Kostunica was in place as president, and promised new aid to the country.
Meanwhile, Kostunica and his supporters continued to consolidate their control after huge crowds danced and sang in celebrations all night long, fed by the excitement of having seized Yugoslavia’s parliament and other key symbols of Milosevic’s regime.
About 200,000 people gathered in front of parliament Friday, hoping to watch Kostunica be inaugurated. One of their posters read: "Slobodan, are you counting your last minutes." But Kostunica’s personal secretary, Svetlana Stojanovic, said the ceremony was postponed until he can reconvene parliament, possibly this weekend.
Tanjug and other state-owned media - formerly a key support of Milosevic’s regime - were broadcasting or publishing apologies Friday for their past support for Milosevic. Serb television occasionally flashed its logo during broadcasts with the slogan: "This is the new free Serbian television." State-owned or past pro-Milosevic dailies issued special editions Friday, reflecting the change in their editorial policies.
Several hundred people from the opposition stronghold of Cacak marched down an avenue behind a brass band on Friday. A lone traffic policemen watched from his hiding place inside the entrance to an office building.
Governments of the two Balkan neighbors - Bulgaria and Romania - ordered their armed forces to remain alert against any attempt by Milosevic or his allies to slip out of Yugoslavia.
"He’s trapped and a wounded animal," said former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic, who ran against Milosevic in 1992. "He has to be given a chance to go somewhere."
Milosevic’s regime began teetering Wednesday when police caved in to defiant coal miners striking in central Serbia, Yugoslavia’s main republic. After that, the movement gained stunning momentum.
A crowd Thursday - including tough miners, factory workers and farmers - stormed the parliament. They set fires, tossed portraits of Milosevic out of broken windows and chased the feared riot police away.
Soon the state television building was on fire, too. Its front door was crushed by a front-loader. Then came word that at least two police stations had also succumbed to the crowds.
Many police tossed away their clubs and shields, absorbed by joyous flag-waving crowds. Others were beaten senseless by angry, often intoxicated, young toughs. The director of Serbian state television and one of Milosevic’s closest allies, Dragoljub Milanovic, was beaten with sticks.
Tanjug said two people were killed and 65 injured in the rioting. All but 12 of the injured were treated and released from hospitals, Tanjug said.
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