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As Student Protests Continue, Serbia Vaccilates on Elections

By Laura Silber
The Washington Post
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia

The Socialist Party of President Slobodan Milosevic signaled its intention to fight to retain control of this capital and filed a court appeal that effectively canceled earlier rulings favoring the opposition.

The move was the latest back-and-forth in the struggle over whether Milosevic will restore Nov. 17 opposition victories that he annulled - an internationally condemned action that triggered more than two months of street demonstrations and the most persistent challenge ever to Milosevic's decade-old rule.

Election commissions, which are essentially controlled by Milosevic, last week awarded Belgrade and Serbia's second city, Nis, to the opposition coalition Zajedno, in what was widely seen as a concession by the authoritarian Serbian president.

But on Monday, as protesters rallied noisily in city streets for the 64th consecutive day, a Serbian municipal court suspended the decision that reinstated the Belgrade win. The court said it was acting in response to a suit filed against the Belgrade electoral commission by Milosevic's Socialists and their occasional allies, the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party.

Prolonging the legal battle further, Dragoljub Jankovic, president of the municipal court, said Serbia's Supreme Court would now rule on which court has jurisdiction over the case. There is no deadline for a decision.

Milosevic appears to hope that by creating a circus of court decisions around the annulled elections, the protests will run out of steam. Buoyed by international backing, Zajedno supporters, students, and other anti-Milosevic activists have maintained a surprising stamina in daily demonstrations. But in the tense waiting game with Milosevic, the demonstrators' numbers have fallen off in recent days.

Opposition officials dismissed Monday's court suspension, urging the judicial authorities to act according to their consciences and not according to political instruction. They said the suspension showed that, despite international pressure to do so, Milosevic was still unwilling to concede opposition victories in Belgrade - the capital of Serbia and the rump Yugoslavia, which includes Serbia and tiny Montenegro - and other Serbian towns.