Serb opposition fails to agree protest plan

BELGRADE, Mar 4, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serb opposition leaders failed on Friday to set a date for a planned joint anti-government demonstration to press their demand for early elections, despite three days of intensive talks.

"The rally is the form of protest we have announced and we will certainly hold it, but you will be notified of its time and date when we agree on it," Dragoljub Micunovic, leader of the small Democratic Center party, told a news conference after a six-hour meeting at his party headquarters.

On January 10 rival opposition leaders declared they had overcome the differences that have helped keep Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in power for the past 10 years.

They pledged to join forces in calling people onto the streets in March if Milosevic ignored their demand for general polls.

"We could have easily agreed on a single rally that would support our demands for early elections and democratization of the country," Zoran Djindjic, one of the key leaders of the fractured opposition, told Friday's news conference.

"But there is another type of rally that would mark the beginning of the large, well-organized campaign. This other type of rally requires much more solid agreement on how would we run for elections and how would we behave once we win those elections. I hope we will reach an agreement on this other type of rally," he said, adding that further talks would be held.

The closest the fragmented opposition has come to exerting significant pressure on Milosevic since last year's NATO air strikes was when it joined forces to bring 100,000 people onto the streets of Belgrade last August.

But even that was marred by rivalries between its leaders.

One wing of the opposition, the Alliance for Change, held daily rallies for more than three months late last year, but attendance dropped off sharply after the first two weeks.

Its main opposition rival, the Serbian Renewal Movement led by charismatic maverick Vuk Draskovic, refused to join those rallies, saying "constitutional means" should be tried first.

Milosevic has yet to call any poll and his allies have said that only federal and local elections can be expected this year, not the republican-level poll the opposition wants.

The opposition blames Milosevic for years of international isolation, inter-ethnic conflicts and growing economic hardship.

All its leaders seek a radical change of direction for Yugoslavia and on Friday they came up with a list of a few general joint electoral pledges, but failed to agree on a joint strategy if a poll was called.

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