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Serbia Suffers Worst Energy Crisis

December 28, 2000

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Blackouts and traffic jams sparked more protests Thursday in the main Yugoslav republic of Serbia, which is suffering from its worst-ever energy crisis.

But there was hope for the new year as the Russian gas monopoloy Gazprom agreed Thursday to resume shipping natural gas to Yugoslavia, starting Jan. 1. ``This is the good news,″ said Serbia’s energy minister, Srboljub Antic.

Antic then resigned from his post, citing his ``personal failure″ in coping with the severe power shortage.

``I consider that perhaps I failed to do enough ... and so I must bear part of the responsibility in the matter,″ said Antic, who was to step down in January anyway when Serbia’s new government takes office.

The ongoing crisis has left Belgrade residents desperate. Angry over blackouts, residents protested by turning over garbage containers and used them as barricades on tram lines Thursday, forcing traffic to a standstill. Traffic lights were out as well, due to the blackouts.

Two electricity-generating units at a major power plant supplying the capital and much of northern Serbia broke down Thursday, shattering hopes of an end to the eight-hour blackouts.

Serbia’s premier-designate, Zoran Djindjic, urged Belgrade residents against protesting. ``I understand your anger and your fury. But we can’t make something out of nothing,″ he said.

Officials blamed a summer drought, an abnormally mild winter, low water levels in rivers and forced cutbacks on hydroelectric production for the shortage. The power grid also was poorly maintained during ousted President Slobodan Milosevic administration, when the government was strapped for cash because of international sanctions imposed over the ethnic wars in the Balkans.

Russian gas supplies resumed recently after earlier disputes over Yugoslav gas debts were settled but were insufficent to head off the crisis. Cash-strapped Yugoslavia depends heavily on Russian oil and gas, especially with its energy infrastructure damaged by last year’s NATO-led bombing.

The resumption of supplies came after a meeting in Moscow between new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Russian President Vladimir Putin that settled payments for old gas bills. Kostunica promised that Yugoslavia, which owes Gazprom more than $300 million, would honor all its debts.

Antic said Thursday’s deal called for a total of 53 billion cubic feet of natural gas from Gazprom for the next year, with the first delivery Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, in Serbia’s sister republic, Montenegro, heavy rains flooded medieval towns.

In Cetinje, Montenegro’s ancient capital, dozens of people were evacuated by boat as rains flooded parts of town, threatening the medieval archives and the city’s treasured library.

``We haven’t seen this much rain since 1986,″ said Rajko Cicanovic, head of the local fire department.

Two schools and the town’s main Grand Hotel also were flooded, as were several roads leading into the mountainous town. Across the republic, schools, shops and workplaces were closed. Strong winds downed power lines in several places, reports said.

In the Montenegrin seaside town of Kotor, a UNESCO-protected medieval port, residents woke up to find the town’s maze of cobblestone streets under water. The main highway connecting the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, with the republic’s second major city, Niksic, was partly flooded.

Montenegro Television sought to lift spirits by running a jingle telling the people they were ``sailing on″ to a better future.

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