'Opposition follows Nato orders'

BELGRADE, Jan 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslavia's ruling coalition and state media on Tuesday accused Serbia's opposition leaders of being traitors, ordered by NATO to agree on a joint anti-government strategy.

"Monday's meeting of the opposition was held at the order and instructions of (U.S. Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright and NATO," the state Tanjug news agency quoted a statement by the Yugoslav Left.

The party is a powerful partner of President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists and is led by his wife Mirjana Markovic.

"This is a new occasion for all citizens to hear and see the faces of those who are ready to betray their country," the statement said.

On Monday, Serbia's fragmented opposition united on a plan to launch joint demonstrations if Milosevic ignored their demand for an early ballot by the end of April. The first protest was scheduled for March at a yet unspecified date.

On Tuesday, opposition leaders reiterated their commitment to use all "accessible institutional and non-institutional means to realize the demands."

Monday's move followed a number of unsuccessful separate bids by opposition parties to topple Milosevic, including three months of street protests last year staged by the Alliance for Change that were called off due to dwindling support.

Dragan Veselinov, the head of the Vojvodina Coalition, said Monday's meeting had "traced the road to victory". He told Reuters in Novi Sad: "We can beat the regime only with a joint political strategy."

Meeting "conducted by NATO members"

State-controlled media joined officials in slamming the opposition. The pro-government daily Politika carried Tanjug's commentary in which it called Monday's meeting a "forced gathering."

It "was obviously conducted by the NATO members, with the agenda prepared at the Berlin meeting with Madeleine Albright," said the commentary.

In an advance commentary carried by Tanjug from Wednesday's edition of Borba daily, the paper said: "Vuk Draskovic, (the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement) and other conscripts were successful hand-kissers and head-nodders." It added that the leaders were "political amateurs who could not seriously be counted on."

The commentaries alluded to the meeting of Group of Eight foreign ministers, Albright and her Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov held in Berlin last December, when she also met Serbian opposition politicians. They were among those who signed the joint anti-Milosevic strategy on Monday.

On Tuesday, Greece and Italy called for early elections in Serbia and supported Serbian opposition demand for an eventual lifting of the embargo imposed on Yugoslavia.

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