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Serbia Curbs Opposition’s Authority

November 10, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ In a move certain to heighten political tensions in Serbia, the allies of President Slobodan Milosevic passed a law today curbing the authority of opposition-run municipal governments.

The legislation, which limits the authority of the local governments and assemblies, was overwhelmingly approved in the Serbian parliament, controlled by Milosevic’s Socialists and their ultranationalist and neo-Communist political partners.

The parliament vote came a day after riot police beat up students and opposition supporters who demand Milosevic’s ouster and free and fair elections in Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic.

The opposition won control of most large Serbian cities in 1996 local elections and while its powers on that level are not broad, they have been a thorn in the side of Milosevic and his allies. In many cities they control, the opposition also runs radio and television outlets, undermining Milosevic’s tight grip over information.

The new law _ approved by 153 votes in the 250-seat legislature _ expands central control over the municipalities. Most of the opposition boycotted the vote, and there were three votes against the legislation.

Opposition leader Vladan Batic today threatened ``civil disobedience toward the state authority″ in opposition-run towns.

The law cuts already meager state funds to the local governments and gives Cabinet ministers powers to effectively annul local-level decisions. Also, the local governments may be stripped of their right to set up and run broadcast outlets.

The regime also wants to change regulations for future local elections to make them more favorable to pro-Milosevic candidates. Even if the opposition wins, the government could impose direct rule in any municipality if it deems local officials inefficient or incompetent.

Milosevic’s attempt in 1996 to annul the opposition election victories in most of Serbia’s cities, including Belgrade, led to more than three months of protests which seriously shook the president’s rule.%bold_off(%) %bold_on(%)%bold_off(%)

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