CEOL
Major Serb opposition party drops election boycott

BELGRADE, Aug 25, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbia's single largest opposition party decided on Thursday to run in next month's parliamentary election in Yugoslavia, dropping a boycott threat.

But the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) said it would contest the vote independently, dealing a further blow to Western hopes that the opposition would unite against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The United States and the European Union have urged the fragmented opposition to join forces ahead of Yugoslav parliament and presidential elections on September 24. The SPO is also fielding its own candidate in the presidency race.

Local elections in Serbia, the dominant republic in the Yugoslav federation, are due on the same date.

The SPO, the opposition party with the biggest number of seats in parliament, said it had submitted a list of its candidates for both houses of the federal assembly.

Party leader Vuk Draskovic, who has accused the authorities of being behind two assassinations attempts against him over the last year, will head both lists.

"We will run in the elections on our own, under our own name and we expect the support of Serbia's citizens," the party said, adding:

"Vuk Draskovic will head both our lists because he and the party he is leading have in the past 10 years proved to be dedicated fighters in the struggle to change Serbia's political and economic system and the greatest victims of that struggle."

U-TURN ON ELECTIONS

The party had initially said it would boycott the polls if Montenegro, Serbia's sister republic in Yugoslavia, did not take part. Montenegro's pro-Western leadership has decided not to run, accusing Milosevic of creating his own private state.

The statement did not say why it had changed its mind, but a party official earlier told Reuters it would probably run in the parliamentary vote because Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic had said he expected the Serb opposition to do so.

But SPO official Ognjen Pribicevic also said he did not believe the elections would be fair, saying Yugoslavia had an "authoritarian regime" and that there was no free media.

The party earlier this month named Belgrade Mayor Vojislav Mihailovic as its presidential candidate.

This drew fire from 15 other opposition parties, which are united behind the candidacy of Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia, who opinion polls suggest stands a better chance of defeating Milosevic.

They have also agreed on a joint list for parliament.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright advised Serb on Wednesday to take part in the elections, saying in Washington that even if the vote was flawed, the opposition could still do well.

But the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank, based in Brussels, said in a report last week it was "extremely unlikely" the opposition would win.

"Quite apart from Milosevic's practiced efforts to foul the electoral pitch, serious doubts remain about the capacity of the opposition to mount a credible campaign," the ICG said.



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