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Serbia Hopes for High Voter Turnout to Elect Leader of New Country - 2002-12-07

Yugoslavia's Republic of Serbia will again vote for a new president Sunday amid fears this second round of voting will fail like the first, because of low turnout. The winner would oversee the creation of a new nation to replace the current Yugoslav Federation.

The influential Serbian Orthodox Church has urged voters to go to the polls on Sunday, at a time when Serbia seems to need political stability as Yugolslavia further disintegrates.

Serbia and the tiny nation of Montenegro, the last two remaining Yugoslav republics, agreed late Friday to consign the name Yugoslavia to the history books.

If the agreement is adopted by their legislatures, the new country will be formed early next year and will become known as the Union of Serbia and Montenegro. They will share foreign and defense policies, but will otherwise lead independent lives.

President Vojislav Kostunica, whose job as President of Yugoslavia also disappears, hopes to become Head of State of Serbia after Sunday's election.

The 58-year-old Mr. Kostunica, who calls himself a moderate nationalist, is expected to beat his main rivals Vojislav Seselj and Borislav Pelevic, who led notorious Serb paramilitary troops during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. But there are fears that voter turnout Sunday will be lower than the legally required 50 percent, as was the case during the first failed round of voting in October.

Many of Serbia's six million voters will not bother to vote because of widespread apathy over the slow progress of reforms and infighting among the politicians who ousted President Slobodan Milosevic two years ago. He is now on trial for war crimes at the U.N. tribunal in The Hague.

To add to Serbia's problems, its current president, Milan Milutinovic, whose mandate expires in January, is also sought by the United Nations Tribunal for alleged war crimes.