Serb opposition leaders hit campaign trail
SABAC, Yugoslavia, Sep 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serb opposition leaders piled into a bus plastered with campaign slogans on Thursday for a 12-day marathon to convince people in 50 cities to opt for change when they vote in this month's elections.
Leaders of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) bloc, grouping 18 parties and one trade union, initially headed west for their first stop in the town of Sabac.
They aim to convince Serbs to show up in large numbers to cast their ballots, saying this would help counter any fraud.
Many opposition supporters fear that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, indicted by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, will claim victory even if he loses the polls.
Zoran Djindjic, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, said he did not expect the elections to be free and fair.
But he said the results could not be manipulated if the opposition won about 70 percent of the votes.
"We are sure that we have majority in Serbia but that we must convince people to vote and that is our main goal," Djindjic told Reuters after addressing a crowd of around 1,000 people in a Sabac square.
Yugoslav presidential and parliamentary elections, and local elections in Serbia, the dominant republic of federal Yugoslavia, will be held on September 24.
Djindjic said he expected a landslide win for the main opposition presidential candidate, Vojislav Kostunica. "It will be a very clear victory," he said.
A survey conducted by the Mark Plan agency and published by daily Danas on Thursday gave Kostunica 43.2 percent in support against 24.6 percent for Milosevic. An earlier poll by the same agency had put the two neck-and-neck.
BOTH SIDES PREDICT VICTORY
Yugoslav government officials say they will respect the will of voters, but also dismiss opinion polls showing Milosevic lagging behind. Also predicting victory, they say almost 1.6 million people signed in support of Milosevic's candidacy.
In Belgrade, Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic described Yugoslavia as a democratic country preparing for elections.
"These elections are going to take place in a fair and just atmosphere," Jovanovic told reporters after meeting his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou.
The opposition blames Milosevic for plunging living standards and the country's isolation following several Balkan wars, including last year's Kosovo conflict.
Vladan Batic, of the Christian Democratic Party, told the crowd in Sabac that an opposition victory would help free Serbia "of fear, hunger and repression."
The DOS bus was later on Thursday due to continue to the towns of Loznica, Sremska Mitrovica and Vrbas, where the opposition leaders were to stay the night.
Kostunica is touring Serbia separately, but will meet the bus in various places, including the divided town of Mitrovica in Kosovo, the Serbian province under de facto international rule since last year's NATO air war, on September 14.
"This should be a rally all over Serbia. The idea is to meet as many people as possible," Goran Svilanovic, who leads the Civic Alliance of Serbia, said on the tour bus.
DOS groups all Serbian opposition parties except the Serbian Renewal Movement of maverick politician Vuk Draskovic. The SPO is fielding its own presidential candidate, Belgrade Mayor Vojislav Mihajlovic.