BELGRADE, Dec 15, 1999 -- (Reuters) Serbia's largest opposition party said on Tuesday it would again call on the West during a meeting with U.S. and European Union officials in Berlin on December 17 to lift sanctions on the Balkan state.
Spokesman Ivan Kovacevic for the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) said sanctions represented a wall around Serbia. The republic has been under various international sanctions since 1992 over its role in a series of Balkan wars.
"Lifting of sanctions against our state is a precondition for Serbia to start communicating with the world, to emerge from prison," he told a news conference.
The West has ruled out reconstruction aid to Serbia, the dominant republic of the Yugoslav federation, following NATO's March-to-June bombing campaign as long as President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power.
It also plans to keep sanctions, which include oil and flight embargoes, in place until the Serbian strongman goes, or at least until he agrees to hold free and fair elections.
The opposition argues that sanctions only hurt ordinary Serbs without seriously weakening Milosevic's grip on power. It has repeatedly asked for them to be removed, but so far without success.
Friday's meeting in Berlin will be attended by representatives of both main wings of the divided Serbian opposition; the SPO and the Alliance for Change.
Belgrade media said it was due to form a tripartite commission made up of representatives of the 15-nation EU, the United States and the opposition.
Slobodan Vuksanovic, vice-president of the Democratic party, a key Alliance member, said the meeting would discuss ways to support the opposition, which is struggling to oust Milosevic after a decade of power.
"Unfortunately we are still divided, but not as much as we used to be," he told Reuters.
The SPO, led by maverick politician Vuk Draskovic, has so far refused to join daily street rallies across Serbia organized by the Alliance, describing them as a waste of time and saying they should stop.
Instead, it has submitted an official demand for early elections to the Serbian parliament. The demand of the SPO, the only opposition party with a significant number of deputies in the assembly, is due to be discussed at a meeting of the legislature's judicial committee on Wednesday.
"If we get a negative response or no response at all...we will inform the public that the ruling coalition has rejected talks on early elections proposed by the opposition," Kovacevic said.
[URL may be different next day if article is archived]