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Tuesday October 10, 2000

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Yugoslav PM and police chief resign

By The Associated Press

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - Key remnants of Slobodan Milosevic's regime crumbled yesterday after Yugoslavia's prime minister and the country's most powerful police chief resigned. Early elections were set for the Serbian parliament, a last bastion of the old order.

Riding the wave of public support that brought him to power, President Vojislav Kostunica moved swiftly to drive out remaining Milosevic stalwarts. The government in Serbia, the main Yugoslav republic, was expected to be dissolved today.

Just two days after formally taking office, Kostunica was also putting his supporters in charge of the country's most important institutions, including the police, judiciary, banks and state-run companies.

A key Kostunica aide, Zoran Djindjic, signaled the new government's desire for closer ties to Washington after an election campaign in which the opposition sought to distance itself from the United States because of public anger over last year's NATO bombing campaign.

"Without a strategic partnership with America, there is no solution for the Serbian national interests," Djindjic said.

Milosevic, who has been holed up at one of the president's official residences in a Belgrade suburb, remained out of public view yesterday.

But two of his key allies, federal Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic and Serbian Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic - who controlled about 100,000 policemen - both stepped down.

All major Serbian parties agreed to early parliamentary elections in December - a move that could spell the end of Milosevic supporters' control of the republic's government and legislature. Given the current popular support for Kostunica, his allies are likely to win a strong majority in the new parliament.

Serbia is home to more than 90 percent of Yugoslavs and whoever rules it holds the balance of authority in the country, which includes one other republic, Montenegro. If the current Serbian government and the parliament remain in place, they could block many pro-democracy reforms pushed by Kostunica on the federal level.

Serbia's president and parliament are elected separately from federal posts and were not involved in the contentious federal vote Sept. 24. Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and other Serbian government leaders were elected in 1998 to four-year terms.

Still, Milosevic's hard-line allies in the Serbian parliament were trying to keep the current legislature in place until the new elections, despite calls for its immediate dissolution.

"This is a highway robbery," said Vojislav Seselj, Serbia's ultranationalist deputy prime minister who has been allied with Milosevic. "You will not get our blessing for a coup," referring to alleged forceful removal of Milosevic's cronies from all major state institutions.

Seselj accused pro-democracy forces of using "lynching methods" to force out rivals. Seselj, for the first time, acknowledged that Serbia's parliament had lost control of the republic's police to pro-Kostunica forces.

As Seselj was leaving Serbia's parliament, he was jostled by an irate crowd. One of his bodyguards fired shots in the air, and a photographer was punched and kicked in the head by a bodyguard. No one was seriously hurt.

In the streets, factories and other public places, anger against Milosevic's cronies sometimes boiled over into violence.

A mob of workers attacked Radoman Bozovic, a close Milosevic aide and the director of a major Belgrade trading corporation. He tried to flee from his car, but he was caught and beaten. His bodyguards snatched him and moved him into a nearby building for safety. Later, Bozovic resigned as the head of Genex, the biggest state-run import-export operation.

In the city of Nis, workers stormed the state-run textile factory, Nitex, demanding the management be fired. Employees of Investbanka demanded that Borka Vucic, a top financial associate of Milosevic, leave the Belgrade headquarters of the state-run bank because "her safety is jeopardized."

Serbian Health Minister Milovan Bojic, considered by many to be the most reviled of Milosevic's supporters, also resigned yesterday, the Tanjug news agency reported.

As the vestiges of the old regime were being cleared away, the European Union lifted economic sanctions against Yugoslavia and offered it $2 billion in aid to help rebuild the country, as well as lifting key anti-Milosevic sanctions.

The decision marked a turning point in Yugoslavia's relations with the rest of Europe and was seen as a first step toward integrating the country into the European mainstream.

Still, obstacles remained for the Kostunica camp.

Yugoslavia's defense minister attempted yesterday to rally opponents of the new government, issuing a last-ditch appeal to Milosevic's shaken supporters not to abandon the ousted leader.

Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic said that "the disunity among the Serbs is inciting the plans of our proven (foreign) enemies" to occupy the country. Milosevic's allies have consistently referred to Kostunica and his followers as Western lackeys bent on taking over the Serb state.

Ojdanic, a close Milosevic ally who has also been indicted for war crimes, has not formally recognized Kostunica as the new Yugoslav president and is not expected to keep his position in the new government. He has no direct control of the military, which has fallen under Kostunica's command.

Still, he retains influence among the military brass, and any call he might make to rally pro-Milosevic forces could be problematic for the new regime.

The military leadership - which consist mostly of Milosevic loyalists - has only grudgingly endorsed Kostunica as the new head of state. The top generals will likely be all replaced as part of a sweeping purge of Milosevic supporters.