Milosevic's Allies Return To Power in Hometown

POZAREVAC, Serbia-Montenegro -- Slobodan Milosevic is in a jail cell, and his wife and son have fled to Russia. But their political allies are back in power in their hometown -- once dubbed the "Forbidden City" by the victims of their autocratic rule.

The return last week of Milosevic's Socialist Party and its leftist allies to power in this Serbian town -- the first comeback by his party after the former Yugoslav president's ouster in 2000 -- has triggered alarm bells among the pro-democracy leaders who toppled him.

Milosevic, who faces the rest of his life in prison if convicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague of genocide or crimes against humanity, is unlikely ever to return.

But his loyalists' return to power in local elections in Pozarevac serves as a warning to the squabbling pro-Western parties in Serbia-Montenegro, the successor state to Yugoslavia, that Milosevic supporters could regain national influence as well.

"Pozarevac was a key symbol of Milosevic's dictatorship and repression," said Momcilo Veljkovic, a local leader of Otpor, or Resistance, a youth group that played a key role in toppling the former president in a popular revolt.

"When people see Milosevic's allies again on top in Pozarevac, it sends a dangerous signal that the past is coming back," Veljkovic said.

After a repeat election for four seats in the 68-seat city assembly, the Socialists and their allies secured 37 seats, a victory Veljkovic attributes to squabbling among the pro-Western bloc that defeated Milosevic in 2000 elections.

Since taking over in Serbia, the unity of the 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition has steadily unraveled and now has only the slightest majority over Socialists and other nationalist parties in the 250-seat Serbian parliament.

The worst blow for the pro-Western government came in March, when Serbia's first democratic prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, was assassinated in downtown Belgrade.

But the leadership has also suffered a loss of credibility because of a series of corruption and political scandals and its inability to dramatically improve living standards in an economy ruined by Milosevic's mismanagement in the 1990s.

"Instead of taking care of the economy and reforms, the ruling coalition is busy with internal bickering," said Zoran Milovanovic, another Otpor activist.

Milovanovic was one of several victims of repression by Milosevic's family when it ruled Pozarevac. Milosevic's son, Marko, was charged in 2001 with threatening Milovanovic with a saw and demanding that he reveal who was financing the Otpor movement and divulge its members.

The incident was part of intense violence against Milosevic's opponents in the months before his ouster and subsequent extradition to the UN tribunal, where he is standing trial for alleged crimes committed during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.