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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Extradition sparks Belgrade turmoil
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic (L) and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica
The Serbian prime minister and the Yugoslav president disagree strongly
By Alix Kroeger in Belgrade and the BBC's South-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

Even from his cell in The Hague, where he awaits trial on war crimes charges, Slobodan Milosevic is casting a long shadow over Yugoslavia's political scene.

His snap extradition has strained Yugoslavia's governing coalition to breaking point.

Milosevic supporters protesting against his extradition on Thursday
Serbs are torn between nationalism and the need for western economic aid
The party of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who denounced the extradition as illegal and unconstitutional, is leaving the parliamentary group of the ruling reformist alliance, although it will remain within the coalition.

Mr Kostunica vehemently opposed the Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic, who was more concerned with ending Yugoslavia's international isolation than with observing a court ruling handed down by judges appointed by Mr Milosevic.

Mr Djindjic ignored the Yugoslav Constitutional Court's order that Mr Milosevic's surrender to The Hague tribunal should not go ahead for at least two weeks, deciding that Yugoslavia could not afford to wait.

Mr Milosevic was adept at manipulating the institutions of state.

It seems his successors have adopted some of the same tactics in order to put him on trial before an international court of law.

Mr Djindjic invoked the national interest clause in Serbia's constitution - a measure originally put forward by Mr Milosevic himself.

But by ignoring the constitutional court's decision, Mr Djindjic was abandoning one of the coalition's basic principles - respect for the rule of law.

Political fall-out

Mr Djindjic's decision may have triggered two separate political crises within Yugoslavia.

He has angered his Montenegrin partners in the Yugoslav federal government.

Yugoslav Prime Minister, Zoran Zizic, and his Montenegrin Socialist People's Party, or SNP, had opposed the move to hand over Mr Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal - not least because they were Mr Milosevic's close allies for many years.

Others among them fear that several Montenegrins may be on the list of those secretly indicted by the tribunal for their role in the attack on Dubrovnik and its hinterland during the war in Croatia in 1991.

Now the SNP's leader, Predrag Bulatovic, has said that the Yugoslav coalition is over.

If the SNP's declaration becomes official, it would leave the broad-based Serbian umbrella group, known as the DOS, without a Montenegrin partner in the federal government and without a majority in the federal parliament.

Drive for independence

Yet fresh elections would be unlikely to resolve this problem because Montenegro's pro-independence governing parties have been boycotting federal Yugoslav institutions for the past three years.

Indeed, the likely collapse of the Yugoslav Government could accelerate Montenegro's drive for independence.

Already, the pro-independence parties have pledged to hold a referendum on independence by early January.

Unless the SNP decides that it is better to remain in government, even when humiliated by its Serbian partners, than to move into the political wilderness, the scene may be set for a political paralysis in the Yugoslav administration, leading Montenegro to break away.

Serbia crisis

Within Serbia, too, the Milosevic affair is exacerbating the already serious differences within the DOS between Mr Djindjic's pragmatic reformers on the one hand, and Mr Kostunica's traditional Serb nationalists on the other.

Scheveningen prison where Mr Milosevic is being held
Mr Milosevic's fate is having repercussions far beyond the prison walls

Mr Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, which is an important partner within the 18-party alliance that makes up Mr Djindjic's Serbian Government, has announced it is leaving the parliamentary groups in both the Serbian and federal parliaments.

"This is not just about the illegal extradition of the former Yugoslav president, but also about many previous moves which were in complete disaccord with the basic constitutional order and the coalition's objectives," a party statement said.

If the divisions deepen, that could lead to fresh elections in Serbia itself.

In many ways, that has been on the cards ever since the DOS defeated Mr Milosevic and his Socialist Party last year because the alliance brings together so many different parties and political trends.

Attention would then focus on how Mr Djindjic, acting as a tough pragmatist, and Mr Kostunica, the new standard bearer of Serbian nationalism, fared in early elections.

In Serbia, as in the Yugoslav federation, the Milosevic extradition could speed up political developments that are already underway.

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See also:

27 Jun 01 | Business
Yugoslavia's shattered economy
28 Jun 01 | Europe
Milosevic's career in pictures
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