. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbians Charge Election Tampering

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- A court controlled by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic on Sunday annulled the first electoral victory by his opposition, putting the Yugoslav leader on a collision course with his rivals.

Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic, who would have been mayor of the Yugoslav capital if the results of the Nov. 17 local election had held, urged his supporters to take to the streets and overthrow Milosevic's regime. A crowd of 30,000 protesters massed Sunday night in Belgrade.

The pre-dawn ruling by the Belgrade court was unexpected. It followed six days of protests by opposition supporters, who had accused Milosevic's regime of massive fraud in the vote. An opposition coalition, called Together, had charged Milosevic's regime with stealing victory in 11 of 18 major cities in Yugoslavia, which now consists of Serbia and Montenegro. But until Sunday, the opposition's triumph in Belgrade and one other city, Novi Sad, appeared fairly secure.

Sunday's court ruling and the subsequent protest appeared to foreshadow a confrontation between the opposition and Milosevic's formidable security apparatus of 80,000 well-armed police.

"Citizens have become aware that the regime in Serbia cannot be changed legally, but by uprising, strike and violence," said Djindjic, who had not previously advocated the use of force. "The issue is no longer the number of seats in the institutions. The question is if it's at all possible to change anything in this country through elections."

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters have thronged peacefully in cities across Serbia all week, bringing life in Belgrade and several other cities to a virtual standstill. Similar demonstrations in 1991 and 1993 were crushed when Milosevic ordered tanks and baton-wielding police into the streets.

Opposition leaders charged that Milosevic was emboldened to use the courts to recapture Belgrade partly by the weak reaction of Western powers to other alleged electoral tampering. Last week election commissions controlled by Milosevic annulled opposition victories or declined to release the results in Nis, Kragujevac and other industrial centers throughout Serbia. The State Department expressed "concern" about these moves but did not criticize them severely.

Opposition officials contend that Western powers support Milosevic because they see him as the one Yugoslav politician capable of delivering on promises to implement the Dayton peace accord in Bosnia.

During the campaign leading up to nationwide voting in Yugoslavia on Nov. 3 and local election runoffs Nov. 17, the opposition claimed the United States and Britain backed Milosevic's Socialist Party. U.S. and British envoys appeared at state-run factories and spoke of Yugoslavia's economic potential. Their visits were shown on state television as evidence that Milosevic had the endorsement of the West.