Belgrade, 25 September 2000 (RFE/RL) - Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's ruling party and supporters of opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica are each claiming that early results show their candidate leading in yesterday's presidential election. A spokesman for Milosevic's Socialist Party said he was leading opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica 44 to 41 percent. But the Democratic Opposition of Serbia said its figures show Kostunica received 53 percent of the vote and Milosevic 36 percent with over 50 percent of the vote counted. No official results are expected to be released until later today.
In central Belgrade, riot police set up lines between pro-Milosevic and pro-opposition supporters who were staging separate rallies late yesterday. Other rallies involving pro-Milosevic and pro-opposition supporters were reported taking place in other Serbian cities.
Turnout in the election was estimated at more than 70 percent. A non-partisan Serbian monitoring group, the Center For Free Elections and Democracy, reported major voting irregularities. A U.S. government spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said the reported irregularities raise serious doubts about the validity of the vote.
The French government said the European Union states, the U.S., and Russia were consulting each other about the Yugoslav elections.
Thousands of opposition supporters rallied last night in Belgrade and other Serbian towns in expectation of a victory for Kostunica and the end of Milosevic's 13-year rule. Rallies were also staged by smaller crowds of Milosevic supporters. There were no reports of clashes.
Voter turnout in Serbia was put at more than 70 percent. But local independent monitors reported irregularities in all territories where the voting took place -- Serbia, Montenegro, and the UN-controlled southern Serbian province of Kosovo.
The United States said it had serious doubts about the validity of the election. The U.S., European Union, and Russia were reported holding consultations on the situation.
Kostunica said early today that the dawn of freedom has arrived in the country ruled for so many years by Milosevic.
The government has released no official results from the elections Sunday, when an estimated 74 percent of the voters cast ballots for president, parliament and local officials.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook described Milosevic today as a beaten president and urged him to step aside.
The EU says any claim from Milosevic that he has won the presidential elections would be a fraud. The EU said in a statement today that it is clear the people of Serbia wanted a change.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) called the voting "far from democratic," and said any claims of victory coming from pro-Milosevic forces "are not credible."