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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Belgrade Declares Opposition Victors

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The city election commission, believed to be controlled by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, on Tuesday declared the opposition victors in Belgrade's bitterly contested local elections.

Belgrade has been the main focus of eight weeks of protest by the opposition against Milosevic, who was accused of being behind the annulment of November election triumphs by the opposition in 14 cities, including the Serbian capital.

The decision was announced by the head of the election commission, Radomir Lazarevic. It appeared to represent a major victory for the opposition a day after it brought half a million people onto the streets for a protest and celebration of New Year's Eve in keeping with the old Orthodox calendar.

If the results become official, they could end nearly two months of daily protests in Belgrade. But the Socialists have 48 hours to appeal, and the opposition was cautious.

"I believe nothing,'' said Zoran Djindjic, who would be mayor if the opposition indeed wins Belgrade. "This is another attempt to buy time. We will continue our protests."

Djindjic said the opposition wanted to see all of its election victories recognized, and its members actually taking power.

"Belgrade is only a part of the whole package," he said. "We don't trust this regime until our deputies constitute the city council."

Vuk Draskovic, Djindjic's partner as leader of the opposition, said that the move "could mean that the Serbian government made a step toward sanity." The findings not only included district councils within Belgrade that Milosevic already had given up, but the main city council that controls the entire Serbian capital. Lazarevic said the opposition coalition Zajedno, or Together, would have at least 60 seats of the 110 seats in the main city council. Milosevic's leftist coalition would have only 23 seats, with the remainder to other parties.

The announcement was unexpected. Independent media earlier Tuesday had predicted Milosevic was ready to cave in to demands to recognize the opposition wins in 13 other cities, but not Belgrade.

The independent Dnevni Telegraf daily said Milosevic hoped to lessen international pressure by conceding defeats in less important communities. This would make it easier for him to use force against the demonstrators in the capital, it said. But the long struggle with the opposition has exposed deep splits between moderates and hard-liners in the Socialist Party. Despite pressure at home and abroad, Milosevic has refused anything more than minimal concessions.

Lazarevic said the results would be official only after the 48-hour appeals period. There was no indication immediately whether Milosevic's Socialists would appeal, but they have proved adept at muddying the waters.

Still, with the Belgrade commission thought to be controlled by Milosevic supporters, its announcement seemed to indicate that the regime was preparing to concede.

On Monday night, half a million people filled the streets of Belgrade in a raucous combination of anti-Milosevic protest and celebration of Orthodox New Year's Eve. They set off flares and fireworks that turned the air around Belgrade's main square a smoky red.

Rock music blared and protesters blew the whistles that have become the symbol of Belgrade's protests. Others danced, and some of them were in costumes.