Romania: Milosevic Should Step Down

Sunday, October 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) — Romania's president joined calls Sunday for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to step down as Russian diplomats sought a way out of the impasse over opposition claims of victory in the recent presidential election.

The moves came as Milosevic's opponents prepared to launch what they hope will be a nationwide general strike Monday to force the Yugoslav leader to abandon plans for a runoff next weekend with challenger Vojislav Kostunica and accept defeat in the Sept. 24 elections.

Authorities in Yugoslavia's main republic, Serbia, warned students Sunday against joining the strike, saying ``events disrupting school activities'' for political purposes ``are illegal.'' Students in Nis and other cities walked out of class during protests last week.

In neighboring Romania, President Emil Constantinescu urged Milosevic to concede defeat and congratulated Kostunica for his ``historic victory.''

``The victory of democracy in Yugoslavia cannot be canceled by maneuvers meant to keep in power a regime that is rejected by its own citizens,'' Constantinescu said. ``We express the hope that no matter how much it has relied on force, the Milosevic regime will understand he does not have the right to trouble the peace and security of Yugoslavia and the entire region.''

Opposition leaders, using figures from their poll watchers, claim Kostunica won the election with 51.34 percent to 36.22 percent for Milosevic. But the Federal Electoral Commission, in a tally criticized by the United States and other countries, says Kostunica fell short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

In Belgrade, special U.N. human rights envoy Jiri Dienstbier, former Czech foreign minister, called Sunday for an independent recount of the vote.

However, Milosevic shows no sign of buckling to the international and opposition demands, raising fears of bloodshed if he uses force to remain in power.

U.S. officials said Milosevic turned down an offer Saturday by Russian President Vladimir Putin to send his foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, to Belgrade to meet with both sides. However, two senior Russian diplomats — Vladimir Chizhov and Alexander Tolkach — arrived in Belgrade late Saturday. Russian diplomats here refused to give details of their meetings.

In Berlin, however, the German government said Putin conferred by telephone late Saturday, and the two agreed that ``Kostunica's election victory emphatically expresses the will of the Serbian people for a democratic change in Yugoslavia.''

In advance of the Monday strike call, scattered protests took place Saturday. Workers walked out in vital sectors: the largest coal mine, a key oil refinery, railway lines. The strikes raised the prospect of power and fuel shortages.

On Sunday, a leader of the opposition coalition, Vladan Batic, said he had filed a criminal complaint against the head of the electoral commission, Borivoje Vukicevic, for allegedly falsifying election results.

Batic said the complaint was filed with the Belgrade district court.