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Yugoslavia: Serbian Opposition Moves To Take Power

After a revolution swept the streets of Belgrade yesterday, the Serbian opposition to Slobodan Milosevic is beginning to take over the reins of power in Yugoslavia. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos reports from Podgorica, the capital of Serbia's sister republic, Montenegro.

Podgorica, Yugoslavia; (RFE/RL) -- Serbian opposition leaders moved quickly today to set up an emergency council to oversee their transition to power after mass protests last night forced the apparent collapse of Slobodan Milosevic's government.

Vojislav Kostunica -- Yugoslavia's president-elect -- is preparing a new session of the federal parliament and will run the country's vital sectors on a temporary basis.

The 56-year-old law professor is due to hold an inauguration rally in Belgrade later this evening. Late last night, Kostunica addressed Serbian citizens over state television:

"Belgrade is Serbia today! Our big beautiful Serbia arose in order that one man, Slobodan Milosevic, should leave."

Foreign support for Kostunica continued to grow today. Even Russia -- a long-time supporter of Milosevic's government -- has now joined Western nations in welcoming Kostunica as his legitimate successor. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with Kostunica in Belgrade today and conveyed a message of congratulations from President Vladimir Putin on his electoral victory.

Earlier, the European Union issued a statement saying that in Brussels on Monday (Oct 9) its 15 foreign ministers would begin lifting EU sanctions on Yugoslavia.

In a telephone interview from Belgrade with our correspondent, Serbian political analyst Vladimir Goati said that it is clear a new chapter has begun for Yugoslavia.

"I think today is the day that should verify the unquestionable democratic victory in which Serbia finally found its democratic soul -- as has been the case with all countries in this part of the world, including the other republic (Montenegro)."

Goati says there is still a slight possibility that Milosevic could try to overturn Kostunica's victory. But he says that Milosevic can no longer count on the support of his armed forces and that the mass demonstrations in Belgrade last night sealed Milosevic's fate.

The demonstrations erupted after a controversial announcement from Yugoslvia's pro-Milosevic constitutional court annulled the September 24 presidential election apparently won by Kostunica. The ruling was seen as a desperate last effort by Milosevic to remain president until his mandate ran out in the middle of next year.

Hundreds of thousands of protestors from across Serbia descended on the capital. They stormed the buildings of the federal parliament and state broadcasting. Riot police initially sought to hold them back, but soon many policemen joined the crowd, some throwing down their shields and helmets and embracing protestors.

The rally was the climax of a mass civil disobedience campaign called by leaders of the 18-group Democratic Opposition of Serbia to force Milosevic to concede defeat to Kostunica in the elections and step down. The campaign began on Monday (Oct 2) and gathered strength during the week, with civil servants, shopkeepers, and factory workers staging strikes and rallies. Particularly crucial to the campaign were coal-miners, whose strike led Serbia's largest electricity generator to order power cuts.

So far, the Yugoslav army has not made any public statement. The opposition says it remains in touch with top civilian and military leaders.

Analyst Goati says the only real question in Yugoslavia today is Milosevic's ultimate fate.

"I think that this is Milosevic's swan song. The only question that remains is how he goes. The real end has already occurred. What is left is noise and the practical matters [of how the opposition will now form its government]."

Events in Serbia will considerably affect its tiny sister republic Montenegro. Political parties there today were seeking to gain some hold on power while the Serbian opposition moved to form a new parliament.

The Montenegrin Socialist People's Party (SNP), a long-time backer of Milosevic, abruptly shifted its allegiance. The SNP was the only Montenegrin party to urge its followers to vote in the September 24 federal elections. At a press conference in Podgorica today, the party recognized Kostunica as Yugoslavia's new president, but -- citing the federal constitution -- said the new Yugoslav prime minister should be an SNP member.

President Djukanovic's West-leaning ruling coalition, which boycotted the election, is due to comment later this evening.