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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK

World: Europe

Dissent and disunity in Belgrade

Vuk Draskovic: First of many voices of dissent?

By South-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

Nato officials have described the sacking of Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic from the government as the first clear sign of a split within the Belgrade leadership.

Mr Draskovic's dismissal on Wednesday followed remarks in recent days in which he accused the rest of the leadership of lying to the Serbian people and called for a compromise deal to end Nato's air strikes against Yugoslavia.

The latest developments in Serbian politics reportedly also include the resignations of the three other cabinet members who represented Mr Draskovic's moderate conservative party, the Serbian Renewal Movement.

Much has been said about the way in which Serbs have been united behind a previously unpopular leader, Slobodan Milosevic, by Nato's air strikes.

Yet five weeks after the bombing campaign was launched there is now more dissent and disunity within Serbia's political establishment than there was before Nato's intervention.

That does not mean that public support for Mr Milosevic is fading - but it is a potentially significant pointer to the shape of things to come.

Moderate proposals

Mr Draskovic, the long-standing opposition politician who was co-opted into the government only three months ago, has attracted much of the attention with his critical remarks directed against the rest of the leadership in recent days.

He has said the time for compromise has arrived; and Serbia should allow the deployment of international peacekeepers.

He has even hinted that the peacekeepers, under UN command, could include soldiers from Nato countries.

And most damagingly for the Milosevic regime, Mr Draskovic has denounced his colleagues in the Belgrade leadership for allegedly lying to the people by claiming that Russia would come to Serbia's aid and Nato's unity was about to collapse.

Mr Draskovic's criticism of the regime has now earned him dismissal from the government.

That in itself is not very significant; Mr Draskovic was never close to the real seat of power centred on President Milosevic and his wife, Mirjana Markovic.

What matters more is the very fact that Mr Draskovic has been critical of the leadership in public; and that his opposition to the Milosevic administration has also encouraged others to voice their views.

Unity crumbling

Among those who have spoken out in recent days perhaps the most prominent is the leader of the extra-parliamentary opposition, Zoran Djinjdic, whose party boycotted the most recent Serbian elections.

Mr Djindjic has explicitly called on Belgrade to pull its troops out of Kosovo and accept international peacekeepers.

Meanwhile, the Yugoslav Minister of Information, Milan Komnenic, one of Mr Draskovic's closest associates, claimed on Wednesday that the two of them have now been muzzled.

He has complained that far-right opponents within the Serbian government have banned the media from publishing remarks he and Mr Draskovic were making.

A loss to the government

The sacking of the maverick Mr Draskovic's may not make much difference to President Milosevic's government.

But it does mean that the Belgrade regime has lost an effective communicator whose task was to project national unity at home and abroad and to act as the relatively moderate voice of Serbia.

And that fact that his three moderate fellow-ministers have reportedly resigned means that Serbia's and Yugoslavia's administration has once again been left in the hands of an assortment of ex-communists, neo-communists and ultra-nationalists.

For his part, Mr Draskovic may find it a relief to be out of a government in which he had barely any influence.

He will now find it easier to prepare for the power struggles of what may well become the post-Milosevic era without being tainted by anything other than the briefest of associations with the Milosevic regime.

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