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New president to reestablish ties with US despite obstruction

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October 13, 2000 


BELGRADE (AP) - Slobodan Milosevic's party announced leadership changes Thursday as it struggles to find a way to stem the steady erosion of its power and influence to the newly elected president, Vojislav Kostunica.

In a statement Thursday, the party said its hardline secretary-general, Gorica Gajevic, had been replaced by Zoran Andjelkovic, head of the Serb-run Kosovo government and a somewhat more moderate figure.

Serbia's president Milan Milutinovic was named the party's vice president. Milosevic apparently remains at the helm despite disastrous results in the Sept. 24 elections. The Socialists also called an extraordinary party congress for Nov. 25.

There were also signs of a rift between the Socialists and their neo-communist allies, the Yugoslav Left, the party of Milosevic's influential wife Mirjana Markovic. Both parties said their candidates would run independently in the next Serbian elections, tentatively scheduled for December.

The two had been closely allied in the Milosevic government and ran a joint campaign in last month's elections, which Milosevic lost to Kostunica.

Allies of the current and ousted president are locked in a power struggle as Kostunica seeks to dismantle the last vestiges of Milosevic's regime and open ties to the West. Kostunica's camp gave Milosevic loyalists until Friday to agree to early December parliamentary elections in Serbia, the dominant republic of Yugoslavia.

The demand followed attempts by Milosevic officials to reclaim control over the 100,000-strong Serbian police and government posts which the ousted president's followers still hold.

"By Friday, we want a definite answer ... when the elections will take place," Zoran Djindjic, Kostunica's senior adviser said. "If they don't schedule the elections as agreed, we will call the people to the streets and squares to demand new elections."

Milosevic's Socialists said in the statement, however, that they first want "lawlessness and violence," allegedly inspired by the pro-democracy forces, to end before they continue negotiations on new elections and Serbia's government and the dissolving of the republic's parliament.

The insistence on early elections came as tensions began to build throughout the country in light of an announcement by Serbia's government that it was retaking control of the police and that its institutions were the only legal bodies fit to rule.

"That (Serbian) government can declare itself ... omnipotent, but it's a fact of life they have no control over 80 percent of the processes in the country," Djindjic said.

The threats from pro-Milosevic forces appeared to have little support, and there was no sign of any unusual police movement. A senior police source said, speaking on condition of anonymity, that orders from the pro-Milosevic group would be ignored.

Also Wednesday, the army resisted efforts by Kostunica to replace its pro-Milosevic top brass. The general staff had earlier officially endorsed the new president but Milosevic's loyalists still retain chief posts.

Still, the mere resurgence of pro-Milosevic rhetoric rattled the new leadership. Although Kostunica overwhelmingly defeated Milosevic and was inaugurated president, the republic of Serbia is still run by a president and Cabinet composed of Milosevic loyalists.

Kostunica said that despite "disruptive factors," the transition of power would go on and that the "tensions and difficulties that exist in this society will be removed."

The United States and the European Union have rushed to give their support to the new leader, offering Yugoslavia a chance to end years of international isolation imposed during the Balkan wars of the past decade.

U.S. diplomat William Dale Montgomery arrived in Belgrade on Wednesday to prepare for a meeting between Kostunica and James C. O'Brien, the senior U.S. official overseeing Balkans developments.

Montgomery, who heads a Hungary-based U.S. office for support of democracy in Yugoslavia, gushed that America's "relationship was always wonderful with the Serbian people, and that relationship started to go downhill immediately when Milosevic came to power."

"That time is over so I have high hopes that that relationship can get back to normal," he said.

The U.S. military played a key role in last year's NATO bombing campaign aimed at forcing Milosevic to end a crackdown on independence-minded ethnic Albanians in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo.

Since air strikes, the U.S. Embassy and a cultural center were trashed and sprayed with anti-American graffiti. There have been no diplomatic relations between the two countries since the bombing began in March 1999.

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