Bosnian Serb vice-president takes over presidency

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia, Jan 27, 2000 -- (Reuters) Bosnian Serb Vice President Mirko Sarovic told parliament on Wednesday he was taking over the powers of the president in a bid to resolve a drawn-out political crisis.

The move will enable Sarovic, of the hard-line Serb Democratic Party (SDS) founded in 1990 by wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, to propose a new prime minister-designate.

The Serb republic, one of Bosnia's two autonomous entities, has been without a president for 10 months.

Last March, the Western body overseeing the peace process removed President Nikola Poplasen of the ultra-nationalist Radical party, accusing him of obstructing efforts to rebuild the country following the 1992-1995 war.

"I will make a contribution to the resolution of the political crisis in Republika Srpska," Sarovic told the Bosnian Serb assembly. "My duty is to take over these authorities while the situation is as it is."

Poplasen's failure to nominate a prime minister-designate with sufficient parliamentary backing allowed the government of Western-leaning Prime Minister Milorad Dodik to stay on in a caretaker capacity following elections in September 1998.

Dodik came to power early that year after ousting hard-liners still loyal to Karadzic, who is now a war crimes suspect believed to be hiding in eastern Bosnia.

But Sarovic said Dodik's government was not supported by parliament. "This is its key weakness," he told the assembly.

Sarovic did not say who he intended to put forward as new prime minister. The next session of parliament is scheduled for February 8.

The two main parliamentary blocks - the Western-sponsored Sloga (Unity) coalition and the two hardline parties - have around 30 seats each in the 83-seat Bosnian parliament.

Deputies elected mainly by Muslim refugees now living in Bosnia's other autonomous entity - the Moslem-Croat federation - control 15 seats, giving them a crucial role.

The Muslim-led Coalition for a Single and Democratic Bosnia (KCD) joined the SDS and the Radical party in calling for the formation of a new government during a parliamentary debate which started on Tuesday.

The KCD move appeared to reflect frustration that Dodik has not given it seats in his government.

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