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Grim Serbians Mark Milosevic’s Ouster

October 6, 2003

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) _ In a bittersweet reminder of the dramatic ouster of Slobodan Milosevic three years ago, thousands of people marched through central Belgrade late Sunday in a rally organized by the student-led Otpor (Resistance) movement.

The group played a key role in toppling Milosevic, but now there is little of the optimism that followed the immediate end of the Milosevic era. Serbia’s grim picture includes nationalists trying to mount a comeback, a shaky economy, and two failed presidential elections. Ordinary people are wondering if their republic will ever get on the right track.

``I don’t know any more ... maybe our hopes were too high,″ said Natasa Pavlovic, a 38-year-old dentist, remembering the euphoria of October 2000. Back then she and other protesters charged Milosevic’s police, braving tear gas to help replace his autocratic rule with a coalition of 18 democratic parties.

``What I do know is that life hasn’t got much better,″ says Pavlovic, who struggles to make ends meet on her $360 monthly salary from a state-run hospital.

Even more painful than financial woes, she says, is ``this awful political climate″ where once-united democratic leaders engage in daily mudslinging.

The feuds worsened after the March 12 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the architect of Milosevic’s ouster and his extradition to the U.N. war crimes in the Netherlands for genocide charges in three Balkan wars.

Dozens of suspects _ many of them underworld figures _ have been indicted in Djindjic’s slaying, apparently an attempt to destabilize Serbia and derail attempts to impose law and order.

Although Milosevic himself is politically and physically out of the picture, his Socialists and nationalist allies lurk in the wings, hoping to capitalize on disillusionment with the current leadership.

They scored an important symbolic victory in local elections last month in Pozarevac, the former Yugoslav president’s hometown in eastern Serbia.

The next test comes Nov. 16, with elections for Serbia’s president: It is the third attempt to fill the post left vacant since a Milosevic ally stepped down last year. Two previous votes failed because of insufficient turnout.

Picking Sunday to launch his election campaign, Tomislav Nikolic, candidate of the ultrationalist opposition Serbian Radical Party, vowed to triumph over ``the traitors who run the country now.″ Several thousand people attended his rally in the northern city of Novi Sad.

Government officials say the past three years have brought positive changes.

``October 5th (2000) was a beginning of a democratic transformation of Serbia,″ said the republic’s deputy prime minister, Zarko Korac. ``As such, it has fully met expectations.″

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said the government has ``brought Serbia back to the civilized world,″ suggesting that foreign ties have been mended after years of isolation under Milosevic.

Zivkovic, who took power after Djindjic’s assassination, claims to have had success in cracking down on crime and lawlessness.

The living standard has increased and strategic partnerships with the United States and the European Union have been secured, Zivkovic said, describing his republic as a ``small boat that needs to be tied to a solid, big ship.″

But not everyone is happy with the course, and his Cabinet faces daily accusations of corruption, cronyism and incompetence.

In 2001, Vuk Obradovic resigned, amid accusations of sexually harassing a female colleague. And last year, another deputy prime minister, Momcilo Perisic, stepped down after being allegedly caught selling military secrets to a U.S. diplomat.

On Oct. 14, parliament is to discuss an initiative for a no-confidence vote against the government _ a move that could bring it down. The challenge is being launched by the party of Vojislav Kostunica, a former Djindjic ally and Milosevic’s successor as president of Yugoslavia _ Serbia-Montenegro’s predecessor.

Others share the disillusionment.

``October 5th needs to be defended from those who misused it to grab power,″ said Ivan Marovic, the head of the Otpor (Resistance) student movement.

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