Serbia's president undergoes heart surgery

BELGRADE, Apr 11, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbia's President Milan Milutinovic underwent heart surgery on Monday, the state news agency Tanjug said.

"The president underwent a planned cardio-surgical operation ...and post-operative recovery is going well," Tanjug said, quoting a statement from the Institute for Cardiovascular diseases in Belgrade.

Milutinovic, 57, has been attending public functions recently. The news of the surgery came as a complete surprise although a source close to him said last year he had been suffering from low blood pressure.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic holds ultimate power over Serbia, which dominates today's two-republic Yugoslav federation, but if Milutinovic had to step down over ill health, elections would follow that could weaken that power.The speaker of the Serbian parliament would step in for a maximum of two months pending a new presidential election.

The opposition has been calling for both presidential and parliamentary elections for months, arguing that the public should be given a chance to have its say following last year's devastating NATO air strikes over Milosevic's policy in Kosovo.

Milutinovic and Milosevic are among five top Yugoslav officials who have been indicted by a UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague for alleged atrocities their forces committed in Kosovo in the year leading up to the air strikes.

The government has said elections for the Serbian president will not be held until Milutinovic's term runs out in 2002.

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