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Wednesday, June 30, 1999 Published at 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Milosevic and the opposition threat

Opposition leaders like Vuk Draskovic are flexing muscles

By Balkan affairs specialist Gabriel Partos

Several thousand anti-government demonstrators rallied on Tuesday in the central Serbian town of Cacak to demand President Milosevic's resignation. It was the first in a series of planned protests aimed at ousting Mr Milosevic from the top post which he's now occupied for 12 years.

The deputy leader of the centrist Democratic Party, Slobodan Vuksanovic, says he was pleased with the outcome of the rally: " We sent a message to our people that we are still alive as an opposition and that we will continue our battle with the Milosevic regime."

[ image: Popular discontent is getting harder to conceal]
Popular discontent is getting harder to conceal
Cacak is a stronghold of the Democratic Party which is planning to hold further protest rallies with its partners in the Alliance for Change. Their demand for Mr Milosevic's departure echoes that of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Opponents of the Yugoslav president blame him for inflicting the devastation caused by eleven weeks of Nato bombing; and they point out that Serbian forces would not have had to pull out of Kosovo in a little over a week if Mr Milosevic had accepted the deal offered at Rambouillet.

Survival strategy

Given the extent of the destruction, Mr Milosevic's position appears more vulnerable than at any stage during his long years in power.

But he has a powerful instinct for survival and he's being helped by several factors - such as his control over the state-owned media which did not bother to report the Cacak rally.

[ image: Serbs fleeing from Kosovo have added to the strains]
Serbs fleeing from Kosovo have added to the strains
Perhaps the strongest plank in Mr Milosevic's support mechanism is the continuing fragmentation of the opposition.

The leader of the conservative Serbian Renewal Movement, Vuk Draskovic, is keeping a distance between his party and the Alliance for Change. Mutual suspicions among opposition leaders greatly reduce the effectiveness of any attempt to unseat Mr Milosevic.

Mr Draskovic claims he is well ahead in terms of support: " I am supported by over one million people in Serbia. The duty of all democratic forces in Serbia is to follow the biggest, the strongest political party - opposition political party - in Serbia that's Serbia Renewal Movement."

A mixed record

Although Mr Draskovic was sacked from the Yugoslav government during the Kosovo conflict for accusing his fellow ministers of lying to the public, he now seems willing to consider another stint in coalition with President Milosevic's ex-communist Socialist Party and Mrs Milosevic's neo-communists.

[ image: Mr Seselj's nationalists play a pivotal role]
Mr Seselj's nationalists play a pivotal role
If that is the case, he may once again be competing for the presidential couple's favours with Mr Seselj's ultra-nationalists who announced they were leaving the Serbian government when Mr Milosevic accepted a NATO troop deployment in Kosovo. Mr Seselj has now said that his party may renew the coalition arrangements because that is the only realistic solution.

The rivalry between Mr Draskovic and Mr Seselj looks set to guarantee Mr Milosevic's Socialists the required majority in the Serbian parliament until the next elections, due in 2001. However, the momentum of the street demonstrations could cut short the Socialists' tenure of office.

Fragile alliances

When the mainstream opposition was united in 1997, three months of daily protests forced President Milosevic to acknowledge his party's defeats in municipal elections. But the opposition alliance collapsed within weeks, thereby helping to pave the way for Mr Milosevic's continued hold on office and the tragedy in Kosovo.

This time the centrist parties are not united; but the feelings of anger in Serbian society towards President Milosevic are much stronger in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict.

If the demonstrations gather strength and appear to threaten Mr Milosevic's position, Mr Draskovic may yet find it more opportune to jump on the bandwagon of protest than to be left behind.

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