Serb opposition must prove unity, intellectuals say

BELGRADE, Feb 26, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslav intellectuals urged the recently united Serb opposition on Friday to strengthen their campaign for democratic change in the politically isolated Balkan country.

They also urged the opposition to offer voters a clear vision of the future, which would immediately come into effect once President Slobodan Milosevic is defeated at the ballot box.

In turn, the G17plus expert network said it would contribute expertise and other support in a joint bid to bring democracy and prevent the isolated Balkan state from falling apart.

"We will support changes. We will do our best to make as many people as possible take part in a ballot and vote for changes," said Miroljub Labus, the chairman of the G17plus and a leading Yugoslav economist.

The feuding opposition buried hatchets on January 10, agreeing to work together to demand early general elections.

"But it is vital for the opposition to (also) offer a single list of candidates and a credible program," Labus told a news conference.

The G17plus network - set up last October by the G17 group of independent economists - groups judges, writers, political scientists, musicians, historians, producers, and sociologists.

"We will use all our influence to create a wide coalition of Serb democratic forces and the Montenegrin government in a last effort to preserve the Yugoslav federation," Labus said.

The pro-western government of Montenegro has said it would not take party in a ballot organized by Milosevic's government.

But Labus said he believed the Montenegrins could change their mind if the opposition offered them self-determination.

He also urged authorities to be more tolerant of its political opponents, stop violence against media and students, and "stop fuelling a psychosis of a civil war and attempts to introduce a state of emergency through a back door."

The opposition has called on Milosevic to step down since June 1999, when NATO's 11-week bombing campaign ended.

The opposition wants early elections for the Serbian parliament, a key Yugoslav institution. But the ruling coalition of neo-communists, socialists and ultra-nationalists has so far rejected demands for early general polls.

"The election campaign has begun. But it seems there will be no elections this spring," said Mladjan Dinkic, chief coordinator for the G17 group of independent economists.

To boost the chances of an opposition bloc in a future ballot, Dinkic said the G17 planned to organize an international fund-raising conference to rebuild Serbia.

"Following Mr Labus's meeting with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and his German counterpart Joschka Fischer last year, we are preparing the first donors conference for Serbia. Pledges made at the conference before the elections will be made available after the poll," he added.

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