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Alleged Corruption in Serbia May Trigger New Elections - 2001-08-18

Yugoslavia's main republic, Serbia, is facing the prospect of early elections after Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party pulled out of the coalition government late Friday. The split was caused by claims of corruption in high places as well as tensions between the president and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

The Democratic Party of Serbia led by Yugoslav President Kostunica said it pulled its ministers from the Serbian cabinet because so little has been been done to fight organized crime that has flourished in the region over the past decade of war and ethnic strife.

In a statement read on state-run television, a party spokesman described the fight against crime as "unsatisfactory" and said it is no longer willing to take part in what it called "the deception of the government and the people."

The move followed the assassination last month of a former state security officer, Momir Gavrilovic, only hours after he had visited President Kostunica's office and talked to his aides. Belgrade newspapers have suggested that Mr. Gavilovic was killed because he could prove the involvement of some Serbian government officials in corruption and organized crime.

But analysts suggest the main reason for the withdrawal of Mr. Kostunica's party is a power struggle between the Yugoslav president and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. The two politicians joined forces last year in their struggle against then-President Slobodan Milosevic.

However, soon after the October uprising that ousted Mr. Milosevic, their bickering was revived. Mr. Kostunica and Mr. Djindjic have disagreed over a number of issues in the past 10 months, particularly the arrest and subsequent extradition of the ousted Yugoslav leader to the Netherlands-based United Nations War Crimes Tribunal.

President Kostunica, who opposed the move, claimed he knew nothing about plans to transfer Mr. Milosevic to the U.N. court, which he described as "biased against the Serbs." Mr. Kostunica has been criticized by the Serbian prime minister and his supporters for resisting demands to replace two of the former Yugoslav leader's most trusted aides.

One of them is secret police chief Rade Markovic, who stayed in office for several months until his arrest on charges of abuse of power. The other aide has been named as the army chief of staff, General Momcilo Pavkovic, who commanded troops in the Serbian province of Kosovo during the 1999 war with NATO. The decision by the Democratic Party of Serbia to withdraw from the Serbian pro-Western cabinet creates a political crisis that could lead to early elections.

Analysts say the crisis threatens to slow reforms in Yugoslavia, which already suffers severe economic hardship after more than a decade of Milosevic rule and international sanctions and isolation.