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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 22:12 GMT

World: Europe

Analysis: Milosevic's grip on power

Slobodan Milosevic: Said to thrive on emergency situations

By Balkans Correspondent Paul Wood

Western diplomats have long thought that President Milosevic might be prepared to see Nato airstrikes against Yugoslavia because he believes this is the only way to sell the surrender of Kosovo to his own people - and survive in office.

Kosovo strikes
Survival has been his great trick over a decade of upheaval in the Balkans. He first transformed himself from a Communist functionary into a nationalist tribune, using Serb anger about their perceived grievances to dispose of a number of political enemies.

This began in Kosovo, where Mr Milosevic emerged from obscurity after telling rioting Serbs: "No one will ever beat you again."

He then went on to support Serb separatists in Croatia and Bosnia.

But Mr Milosevic later turned on his former allies, first forcing the Bosnian Serbs to accept a series of western peace plans, then abandoning the Croatian Serbs, whom, his opponents say, he had encouraged to rebel in the first place.

All this earned him criticism from the leader of the far right Radical Party in Serbia, Vojislav Seselj. Mr Seselj is now in government as Serbian deputy prime minister.

[ image: Seselj: Attacked Milosvic from the far right, but later joined his government]
Seselj: Attacked Milosvic from the far right, but later joined his government
Mr Milosevic was also attacked as undemocratic by Vuk Draskovic, who led mass demonstrations on the streets of Belgrade two years ago. Mr Draskovic, too, is now in government, also as a Serbian deputy prime minister.

Mr Milosevic's long stay in office undoubtedly has much to do with his ability to keep the opposition divided, and periodically, as now, absorbing it into his governing coalition.

[ image: Draskovic: Called Milosevic undemocratic, but is now part of his government]
Draskovic: Called Milosevic undemocratic, but is now part of his government
Another fact is the grip exercised by his party, the Socialists, on state television, which is still the main source of news for most of the Serbian population.

The closing of the only independent radio station, B92, on Wednesday shows that the party seems to have no intention of loosening that grip.

Over the past months there has been speculation that Mr Milosevic might fall victim to a coup led by senior Army and police officers.

Perhaps in response to this, he has completed a thorough purge of the senior ranks of the security forces, putting those presumed loyal into the top positions.

Western officials who have done business with President Milosevic say he is a poor strategist but a brilliant tactician, thriving on the latest emergency.

With the Serbian nation now under siege, it may be that Mr Milosevic emerges stronger, not weaker, from this crisis.

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