Milosevic re-elected as Socialist Party chiefBy ALEKSANDAR VASOVIC
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (February 17, 2000>) - President Slobodan Milosevic gained re-election as Socialist Party president at the ruling party's congress Thursday, and praised its "struggle for freedom and independence" while claiming victory over the West.
The congress was a chance for the Yugoslav leader to rally his supporters, while his opponents said there was nothing to cheer about with the country isolated and the economy crumbling.
Thousands of Socialist Party supporters - waving flags and chanting "Slobo, Slobo" - were bused in from rural Serbia, Milosevic's stronghold, for a rally in front of the plush Sava Center where the congress was held.
Inside, more than 2,000 delegates and as many guests attended the conference, the fourth since the Socialists took over from the former Communist Party in 1990.
Milosevic, the only candidate, was re-elected party chief. No major policy change or reshuffle in the ranks resulted from the one-day meeting.
Milosevic, the only candidate for party chief, told the audience his party "has been at the helm of the struggle for freedom and independence" from Western domination.
Socialists "have succeeded in winning that battle," Milosevic said as he received a standing ovation.
The largest opposition party, the Serbian Renewal Movement, said in a statement that congress delegates can only applaud "the ruined country that has been turned into a concentration camp isolated in Europe."
The opposition charges that Milosevic and his party have turned Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, into a pariah state because of four wars it has started in the Balkans.
Serbia has virtually lost control over its southern province of Kosovo after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign to stop Milosevic's crackdown against ethnic Albanians there.
In his keynote speech, Socialist Party General Secretary Gorica Gajevic denounced what she called the "brutal pressure by the American administration," aiming to split Kosovo and Montenegro from the federation. Serbia and Montenegro are the two republics that make up Yugoslavia.
She also denounced Serbia's opposition for allegedly "hiding behind" the Western powers that bombed Yugoslavia.
Ivica Dacic, the head of the Socialists in Belgrade, called the opposition's local rule in the capital "dishonest, traitor and vassal." The Socialists, who lost local elections in Serbia four years ago, are preparing for new ones later this year.
All domestic journalists working for major independent media outlets were denied accreditation to cover the congress.
Milosevic's allies have often denounced the independent media for allegedly being pro-Western. They have been branded "traitors" and heavily fined under Serbia's media law for criticizing the government and its officials.
Unprecedented security measures have been taken in the hall in a new part of Belgrade where the congress was held, including stopping all traffic in its vicinity and closing the shops located in the hall.
Several huge party posters, displayed throughout Belgrade to announce the congress, have been sprayed over with slogans such as "The last congress," "Down with Slobo," and "Thieves."
A popular anti-Milosevic university students' organization held its own mock congress in downtown Belgrade, attended by over a thousand people and several opposition leaders.
The group issued a statement calling on Milosevic's government to "immediately stop its language of hatred, repression and threats."