Milosevic emerges from shadows to rally battered party

AFP, Wednesday 22 November 2000, 8:06 AM SGT

BELGRADE, Nov 22 (AFP)—Yugoslavia's ousted president Slobodan Milosevic emerged from hiding Tuesday to try to pull his party back into shape ahead of December 23 parliamentary elections in Serbia.

Reports said Milosevic, who was forced from power after an October 5 revolt ended his attempts to steal Yugoslav federal elections held in September, was struggling to remain chief of his beleaguered Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) which he founded and presided over for a decade.

Belgrade radio station B-92 said Milosevic emerged from an SPS party meeting Tuesday as the sole candidate for the party's presidency when it comes up for election in a congress to be held Saturday, seeing off moderate challengers.

Radio Television Serbia (RTS) broadcast Milosevic's speech to the party faithful late Tuesday in which the former leader stressed the importance of party unity.

If the congress sends a message of unity, the SPS can count on success at the elections, he said.

Speaking of recent defections of former party allies, Milosevic said: The departure of members who are only interested in lining their pockets, and of waverers, can only help the party.

Ever since he was forced to concede defeat to new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica in the presidential election in a live television broadcast on October 6, Milosevic has been keeping a distinctly low profile, reportedly living under tight security at his home in the wealthy Belgrade suburb of Dedinje.

But growing disarray within the SPS brought him out into the open for his first pubic appearance for six weeks when he addressed a party gathering on Monday night.

The only candidate for the SPS presidency is its founder, Slobodan Milosevic, and he will be elected president, a senior SPS official, Zivorad Igic told the radio.

There is a scenario to destroy our party because our party is the only guarantee of defence of people's state and national interests, local radio B-92 quoted Milosevic as saying.

All our opponents are trying to do their best to turn this congress into the congress of quarrels, disintegration and disorientation.

The SPS has been torn apart since the popular uprising, which forced Milosevic to acknowledge defeat at the polls and hand power to reformist moderate nationalist Kostunica.

Several prominent SPS members and a number of the party branches have called for Milosevic to step down, while four high-ranking officials in the party resigned on Saturday in protest at efforts to block party reform at the congress.

The officials, members of the party's main committee, said in a statement their resignation was motivated by deep disagreement with those... who prevent the transformation of the SPS into a modern, pro-European and social democratic party.

They blame Miilosevic for the electoral defeat, which they believe was due to an ill-advised alliance with the left-wing JUL party, run by Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic, combined with poor party management.

A group of former close allies of Milosevic and once senior officials of the SPS announced Monday they had formed a breakaway party, the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), hoping to attract disillusioned members and voters of the SPS in time for the December 23 elections in Serbia, which is the dominant state in Yugoslavia.

Milosevic appeared to have lost some weight since his ouster but his voice had lost none of the strength and firmness which he is well known for.

Meanwhile the Tanjug news agency reported that the Serbian public prosecutor was investigating a newspaper claim that Milosevic had ordered the arrest of opposition leaders at the time of his ouster.

Among the 50 names listed to be picked up were the new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and opposition leader Zoran Djindjic.