Belgrade Mayor Ends 52-Year History

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The capital's first non-Communist government in 52 years held a stormy inaugural session Friday in Belgrade's marble-paneled town hall and elected Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic mayor.


The vote, by secret ballot, was 68 for and 24 against, with 16 abstaining and one absent. The breakdown roughly reflected the distribution of assembly seats between the opposition coalition Zajedno, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party and the ultranationalists.


The session was disrupted by hardline nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, a staunch enemy of Djindjic. First he tried to derail the proceedings by questioning the mayoral election procedures. He later took the floor to blast Djindjic as a "convicted thief'' and a "foreign spy.''


Seselj was removed from the podium, but other members of his Radical Party then made speeches and refused to leave.


After receiving frenetic applause upon his election, Djindjic said: "Democracy is sometimes painful, but patience and tolerance, the will of the majority, are bound to win.''


The opposition coalition, having regained its electoral victory through protests broadcast all over the world, took over power in Belgrade under the glare of television lights.


"This is the first time in [52] years that we are electing a government that is not behind the people, but for the people,'' Djindjic said in a speech before his election.


"This will be a government for Belgrade,'' he said, stressing that the challenge ahead would be tough, especially since the city funds have been depleted and most of the tax revenues go to Milosevic's central Serbian government.


On the eve of his election, Djindjic said the next move in the political battle would be to strip Milosevic of his chief pillar of power, the electronic media.


"As of March 9, we will demonstrate daily in front of the [state-run] television station,'' Djindjic, 44, a German-educated philosophy scholar, said Thursday. It will be the sixth anniversary of the first major public protests against Milosevic.


By taking over the Belgrade city government, the opposition can try to create a state within the state, begin controlling local media and eventually redirect money from the state coffers to the capital.


The opposition has a chance to weaken Milosevic's state-wide grip on media by taking over at least some smaller local television stations, such as Belgrade's Studio B TV, Djindjic said. Small Studio B TV reaches only Belgrade.


The first regular session of Belgrade's new government will elect a new board of managers for Studio B TV and its partner radio station, and propose auditing the finances of the departing city government, Zajedno officials said.


Montenegro has dealt Milosevic's hopes of retaining power a potentially fatal blow by demanding his removal from "any office in Yugoslavia's political life."


A strong attack on Milosevic by Montenegrin Prime Minister Mile Djukanovic warned the Serbian leader he would not get the Montenegrin votes he needs to switch from the Serbian to the Yugoslav presidency this year.


Djukanovic told the independent Belgrade weekly Vreme it would by "totally wrong" for Milosevic to stay.