Kostunica blasts Montenegro on vote restrictions

BELGRADE, Aug 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) The main opponent of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in the forthcoming elections said on Monday that Montenegro was stifling critical voices ahead of the September vote.

Vojislav Kostunica, candidate of a 15-party opposition bloc in Serbia, Montenegro's bigger sister republic in the Yugoslav federation, was referring to Montenegro's ban on state media covering the election campaign.

"Both Serbian and Montenegrin regimes are doing all they can to narrow down the space in which all political parties and options can be heard, to limit normal expression of views in public life in favor of one side," Kostunica said.

Milosevic called Yugoslav presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as a local ballot in Serbia, for September 24. Montenegro's pro-Western leadership, at odds with Milosevic, declared the elections illegal and said it would boycott them.

The smaller republic's pro-Milosevic opposition said it would take part despite the leadership's boycott and organize the federal ballot. Montenegrin authorities have promised not to prevent this.

On Saturday, Montenegro's information ministry said that in line with a parliamentary resolution on the protection of Montenegro's interests it would ban a pre-election campaign in media under government control.

In addition, Montenegro's ruling Democratic Party of Socialists said it would discuss how to conduct an anti-election campaign in the state media.

Kostunica said the moves did not make Montenegro, which advocates a pro-Western democracy, different from Serbia where the opposition is absent from state media and presented as traitors and Western lackeys.

"Both the regimes are doing all they can to impose the interest of the party as the interest of the state," Kostunica told reporters.

"It is crystal clear that in both cases when we speak about the campaign all those who disagree with the government policy in either republic will suffer.

Part of Serbia's fragmented opposition has united behind Kostunica for the election. According to a recent opinion poll, he is on course for 35 percent of the vote, well ahead of Milosevic on 23 percent.

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