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Yugoslavia: Serbia's Ruling Coalition Fails To Overcome Divisions

Leaders of Serbia's ruling 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition met in Belgrade for seven hours overnight in a bid to bridge differences over accusations of corruption and connections to organized crime. As RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele reports, the participants agreed on little more than remaining together.

Prague, 29 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The leaders of Serbia's ruling coalition failed to resolve their differences during some seven hours of talks that ended early this morning in Belgrade.

The 18-party pro-democracy alliance, however, says it plans to remain intact despite the turmoil.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac said after the talks that nothing has changed.

"We spoke in detail about everything, but I can say my impression is that in the political sense, everything stayed where it was. So, though any possible results of the meeting might lead to measures [being taken], everything is just as it was. Maybe there was a slight rapprochement, but I can't tell the citizens of Serbia that the crisis has been resolved."

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, who heads the Civic Alliance of Serbia, also told reporters the meeting failed to resolve the crisis. He outlined four points the leaders agree on, but all four appear to preserve the status quo:

"The first point is that DOS remains a coalition representing all [18] of its parties as it has been until now. Secondly, [Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia] DSS will continue to decline participation in the work of the Serbian government. Thirdly, all the parties that until now have been represented in the Serbian government will continue to support the government. Fourthly, DSS will support those projects of the Serbian government which its party organs decide to back, but it will remain outside the government. DSS government ministers will abide by their resignations."

President Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia sparked the crisis this month by withdrawing its ministers from the Serbian government over alleged links between other groups in the coalition and organized crime.

Kostunica confirmed after the meeting that his party will remain outside the government but will otherwise continue to cooperate at all levels of power.

Kostunica said future DOS discussions will focus on corruption.

"It is very encouraging that one problem was spotlighted that concerns this country, this nation and this state -- that's corruption and crime. So this problem was pointed out and we will continue to deal with this issue at further meetings of the DOS and in public."

Kostunica also said his party will no longer insist that a new Serbian government be appointed to replace Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's cabinet. He said the Serbian government had accomplished much up to now but there was much left to do. He conceded that his own party shares the blame for this.

Djindjic and other ministers denounce Kostunica's allegations of criminal links as a smear campaign.

Djindjic declined to speak to reporters after the meeting, but before the coalition leaders met he was quoted by Serbian media (Beta) as saying "slander and uncorroborated claims" undermine the country's credibility and slow economic recovery.

In an interview with the Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" today, Djindjic likened the allegations to the era of former President Slobodan Milosevic, when simple blanket statements were used to smear opponents.

"Blanket accusations have created a climate of uncertainty as in the Milosevic era. Back then, they simply said I was a NATO spy; now they say I'm corrupt. In such a climate, the country loses whatever energy it has for bringing about change."

Djindjic told the paper he suspects that Kostunica's accusations of corruption are a response to the Serbian government's decision earlier this year to transfer Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal in the The Hague.

Kostunica considers the transfer unconstitutional.

Djindjic said it was not his personal decision to deliver Milosevic to The Hague, but rather it was a political necessity to protect the country's credibility.

The head of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, Nenad Canak, said after the meeting that Kostunica and his allies failed to come up with any proof of corruption in the Serbian government. He added that there will be changes in the government of the multiethnic province of Vojvodina.

The DOS coalition decided at a meeting last week to restore much of Vojvodina's autonomy, which was dissolved along with Kosovo's autonomy in 1989.