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Top envoy amends Bosnia presidency succession law

SARAJEVO, Aug 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) The West's top Bosnia envoy Wolfgang Petritsch has used his sweeping powers to amend a recently-adopted law on presidential succession because it was "undemocratic", his deputy said on Monday.

The amendments are clearly designed to prevent nationalists choosing a successor to Alija Izetbegovic - who led Bosnia's Moslem-dominated government throughout the ex-Yugoslav republic's 1992-95 war and has announced plans to step down in October.

Petritsch's Principal Deputy Ralph Johnson said they would prevent the presidency members - a Moslem, a Serb and a Croat - from unfairly influencing the choice of their successors and stop indirectly elected deputies calling the shots.

"The decision enables the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the territory of the entity concerned to have the greatest possible influence on the outcome of the election of a presidential member if such vacancy should arise," he said.

Johnson, speaking at a news conference, did not link the new legislation directly to Izetbegovic, who announced his plan to resign earlier this year, citing his age, 75, and poor health.

Post-war Bosnia is made up of two autonomous entities: a joint Moslem-Croat federation and a Serb republic. All three groups also have representatives in joint, state-level institutions, the presidency, the parliament and the government.

A succession law adopted by the state parliament's upper house on July 31 was criticized as unconstitutional by international agencies overseeing the peace process, who want to reduce the influence of nationalists from all the groups.

"The High Representative has decided to impose these amendments not only to bring the law in conformity with the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina but also with the spirit which underlies that constitution," Johnson said.

According to the law adopted by the state parliament, a successor could be elected from amongst the deputies in its indirectly elected - and nationalist-dominated - upper house.

"This would be essentially undemocratic," Johnson said.

The amended law stipulates that candidates would be put forward by the lower house and if the upper chamber rejects the first two, the third nominee would be automatically appointed.

Another thorn in the side of international peace officials was the provision that a successor would be chosen by the current deputies if the resignation becomes effective more than 30 days before an election for the lower house.

In the case of Izetbegovic, it would mean that the current assembly would choose his successor despite the fact that general elections have been set for November, which Western officials hope will weaken the nationalists' grip on power.

A statement from Petritsch's office said a vacancy would be filled after an election if it occurred within 120 days of one.

Johnson also said the resignation of an outgoing presidency member would become official only when he vacated the post.



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