Serb regime dismisses opposition call for election

BELGRADE, Apr 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Serbian minister on Saturday dismissed calls for early general elections made at a major opposition rally, confirming the fears of many of those who took part.

Over 100,000 people gathered in Belgrade on Friday to support opposition leaders in their joint appeal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for early elections.

The newly-united leaders of Serbia's fragmented opposition said the turnout represented a clear demand for change.

Yet a day later, Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic made clear the government would not budge.

"Neither the Serbian government, nor parliament, nor any other state body are radio stations that play music on request, and call elections on someone's whim," he told a news conference.

Sixteen opposition leaders united in January on a joint anti-Milosevic platform to fight for free and fair early parliamentary and presidential elections, which are not due before 2001 and 2002 respectively.

The opposition argues that only through an early poll can the people bring to a speedy end the rule of a man they say has led the country to ruin.

The government has repeatedly insisted it would only hold local and federal elections which are due this year, and has yet to set a date for them.

"Elections for the republican parliament will be held on schedule, in 2001. This year there will be elections for the federal parliament and local governments," Vucic said. Serbia and tinly Montenegro make up what is left of the Yugoslav federation.

The West, which indicted Milosevic for war crimes in Kosovo last year, has been pressing the squabbling opposition leaders to unite, seeing their rowing as the major reason he has been able to stay in power for so long.

The leaders ended Friday's rally holding hands in a show of unity aimed at restoring the people's faith in their capacity to carry out the change.

Vucic, a member of the ultra-nationalist Radical party, said however that the rally had shown that people did not support what he called "pro-American parties" and had demonstrated their trust in the parties now in power.

"After yesterday's rally we are completely, 100 percent convinced that we will easily win forthcoming elections and our optimism is even bigger than before," Vucic said.

He said "patriotic forces in Serbia and Yugoslavia" would win both the local and federal elections due this year and the Serbian parliamentary elections that will be held next year.

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