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Saturday, November 22, 1997 Published at 15:13 GMT


Bosnian Serbs vote amid power struggle
image: [ The elections are being held under the guard of the international community ]
The elections are being held under the guard of the international community

The struggle between the Bosnian Serb president and war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic intensified as Bosnian Serbs began voting in parliamentary elections on Saturday.

More than 1,500 international monitors are observing ballot stations during the election. The two-day vote will elect 83 MPs through a system of proportional representation.

[ image: A woman kisses a poster of Radovan Karadzic]
A woman kisses a poster of Radovan Karadzic
Votes can be cast in the Republika Srpska, the Muslim-Croat Federation, Croatia, federal Yugoslavia or abroad.

Around 1.1 million voters are eligible in the election, which came about when the President, Biljiana Plavsic, dissolved parliament in July.

A rocky start

But the elections got off to an uneasy start. An explosion rocked a polling station in the village of Kopaci, 50 kilometres to the northeast of Sarajevo early on Saturday morning, according to a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The blast shattered several windows of the polling station, but did not delay the opening of the station.

All polling stations in the Bosnian Serb Republic were opened on time and apart from this incident there have been no problems, the OSCE spokesman said. The result may not be known for a week.

The OSCE banned three candidates from the ruling Serb Democratic Party (SDS) on Friday because they had used the image of the former president and suspected war criminal Radovan Karadzic on posters.

The party immediately appealed against the decision. It said: "We have informed the regional OSCE centre in Sokolac about this and confirmed in writing that we are not behind the posters and that we distance ourselves from them."

The SDS also accused the international monitors of undermining the elections by refusing to accredit the party's officials in Yugoslavia, where Bosnian Serb refugees are scheduled to vote in over 70 polling stations.

Plavsic versus Karadzic

The split dividing Republika Srpska is both political and geographical.

Although Mr Karadzic was forced to abandon public life last year, he still wields huge influence.

[ image: Biljiana Plavsic: wants a clear mandate from the people of Republika Srpska]
Biljiana Plavsic: wants a clear mandate from the people of Republika Srpska
Opposing his hardline followers are the supporters of the Mrs Plavsic. She dissolved parliament because it refused to accept her dismissal of senior minister whom she accused of corruption.

Both Mr Karadzic and Mrs Plavsic possess their respective strongholds in the two halves of Serb-held territory joined only by a small land corridor and a fragile peace agreement signed two years ago.

Officially, the international community says democracy will provide the mandate for peace, but it is no secret the international community would like to see Mr Karadzic's grip on power reduced and Mrs Plavsic returned to office. It regards her as a moderate and infinitely preferable to a return to nationalism.

Political analysts say they expect the country's four major parties to roughly split most of the vote, with Plavsic's party and the Socialists on one side, and the Serb Democratic party and the nationalist Radical party on the other.

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