CEOL
Serb parliament passes law seen boosting Milosevic

BELGRADE, Apr 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbia's parliament passed a law on Tuesday on the election of federal deputies that the opposition saw as a way of strengthening Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's grip on power.

The authorities defended the move as a necessary step to comply with constitutional law. Their opponents said it was designed to exclude Milosevic's political foes from the federal parliament, where they have threatened to try to impeach him.

The new law, which follows a ruling in November by the federal constitutional court that the previous one was illegal, was passed with 169 votes in favor, four against and one abstention out of 174 deputies present in the 250-seat parliament.

Opposition parties say the law gives the ruling parties, which dominate the Serbian parliament, effective control over who gets sent from there to the federal parliament.

"This law will ensure the election of a suitable delegation which will prevent any vote of distrust in the supreme commander (Milosevic)," Marjan Risticevic, of the opposition Vojvodina Coalition, told Reuters before the session.

Ratko Markovic, a Serbian deputy prime minister known as Milosevic's legal expert, disagreed, saying parties would be represented fairly as long as they turned up.

MAIN OPPOSITION BOYCOTTS SESSION

The main opposition Serbian Renewal Movement boycotted the session in protest at the authorities' refusal to hold a parliamentary inquiry into the deaths of four party officials in a car crash last year, a crash the party blames on the state.

"With this bill, Serbia has confirmed the priority of the federal legal system and federal institutions and its loyalty to the federal state," Markovic said.

His words were clearly directed at Montenegro, which launched a boycott of all federal institutions after its newly-elected deputies were blocked from parliament, where Serbia and Montenegro are meant to hold 20 seats each in the upper house.

Montenegro, which has been at odds with Milosevic since its people elected a pro-Western president in 1997, has also threatened to call a referendum on independence if the Serbia-dominated federation is not reformed.

Some in the West, where a UN tribunal has indicted Milosevic for war crimes in Kosovo, have been trying to encourage Montenegro to join with the Serbian opposition to try to oust Milosevic, with impeachment as one possible option.

However, some analysts say that even if Montenegro dropped its boycott, impeachment would be impossible because parliament is already weighted in Milosevic's favor.

They view the new law as a prelude to a possible change in either the Serbian or Yugoslav constitution to allow Milosevic, who is due to step down in the middle of next year, to stay in power.

Stevan Lilic, professor of constitutional law and an opposition leader, said the new law could be a trigger for a new Serbian constitution.

"Once they get a new constitution, the meter of a new mandate will start ticking for Slobodan Milosevic," he said, when the new law was first announced.



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