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The BBC's Jacky Rowland
"With the anniversary of the Nato bombing, the paranoia has been increasing."
 real 28k

Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 14:44 GMT
Serbs fear new war
Milosevic
Still in control: Milosevic at a party congress in February
By Jacky Rowland in Belgrade

A year after Nato began its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, President Slobodan Milosevic appears firmly entrenched in power.

Demonstrations against him last year faded without trace, and the latest opposition attempts to mount a challenge have looked weak and indecisive.

Meanwhile Serbia remains internationally isolated as a result of economic sanctions, severed diplomatic links and air traffic restrictions.

From the rubble of Nato's bombing campaign, President Milosevic emerged like a phoenix.

Slobodan Milosevic did not speak of defeat when he addressed a congress of his Socialist Party in February: "The entire world is aware that during the war we offered resistance in all ways," he told an audience of his supporters.

"And in all these ways we were superior."

Mr Milosevic is not only the president of the state - in effect, he is the state.

Through his party machine he controls the police, the media and the economy. He may have relinquished control of Kosovo to Nato-led peacekeeping forces, but he is not about to give up power.

"Mr Milosevic is president of Yugoslavia," said Miodrag Popovic, the Serbian deputy minister of information. "We did have elections. And likewise he's going to stay president as long as the people want him as a president."

Creeping clampdown

From the rubble of Nato's bombing campaign, President Milosevic emerged like a phoenix.

He styled himself as rebuilder of the nation, in a propaganda campaign waged through the state-controlled media.

Mr Milosevic is not only the president of the state - in effect, he is the state.

A workforce was marshalled to rebuild roads, bridges and apartment blocks, which were opened either by Mr Milosevic or by other Socialist Party officials.

"This was a very primitive campaign, but it worked," said Bratislav Grubacic, a political analyst in Belgrade. "They built some bridges - not perfectly because trucks can't drive over them - but from the point of view of ordinary people it looked like the authorities were doing something."

In an apparent effort to silence voices of dissent, the authorities in Belgrade have begun a creeping clampdown against alternative media.
Protest
Protesting against the media clampdown: The poster reads "Resistance - because I love Serbia"
Officials from the ministry of telecommunications, backed by police, have closed down a number of private and opposition-controlled radio and television stations.

Lawyers say the government has deliberately kept the electronic media in a legal twilight, making it easy to close down broadcasters.

Rumours of war

"The regime is closing down the free media because it wants to call elections," said a leader of the opposition Alliance for Change, Vladan Batic. "The government wants to hide the truth."

The government is not discouraging the general paranoia in Serbia.

In this atmosphere of oppression, rumours are rife of a new Nato bombing campaign or a war in the smaller Yugoslav republic of Montenegro.

These fears have been fuelled by instability in south-eastern Serbia, where a new ethnic Albanian guerrilla group has emerged and is challenging the Serbian security forces.

The government is not discouraging the general paranoia in Serbia.

President Milosevic has a reputation for thriving in a crisis; if he cannot find one, analysts say, he will create one.

Many people blame him for the Nato bombing last year and for much of what Serbia has suffered since.

But in the absence of any credible political alternative, for the moment at least Mr Milosevic is here to stay.

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09 Feb 00 | Europe
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