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Serbian President Admits Election Loss But Demonstrations To Continue As Opposition Focuses On Belgrade

The embattled government of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic retreated Wednesday and for the first time admitted losing elections in the country’s second-largest city.

Milosevic’s Socialist regime, in an announcement broadcast on state television, said the opposition coalition Zajedno (“Together”) did, in fact, win Nov. 17 municipal elections in the southern city of Nis.

Milosevic has annulled the elections in Nis, Belgrade and 13 other municipalities where the opposition had won, triggering a wave of street demonstrations that passed the 52-day mark on Wednesday.

But Zajedno leaders said the concession from Milosevic is insufficient and demonstrations will continue.

State television said Wednesday a Justice Ministry inquiry, ordered by Milosevic after he had received a delegation of Nis students, concluded that Zajedno had won 37 seats on the Nis City Council while the ruling Socialist Party had won 32.

Milosevic steadfastly has refused to relent in the face of the demonstrations, making only token concessions occasionally to deflect international and domestic pressure.

In conceding Nis, Milosevic appeared to be responding to a new factor - mounting pressure from within his own party, which is said to be in disarray over the political crisis gripping Serbia, diplomats said.

Some members of Milosevic’s ruling leftist coalition have urged him to respect election results rather than risk deepening international isolation and economic stagnation.

Opposition leaders say Nis alone is not enough: They want Belgrade.

“We will not be satisfied and we shall continue our protests until all the Nov. 17 elections results are recognized and until the media and judiciary are freed completely in Serbia,” opposition leader Zoran Djindjic told reporters.

Djindjic also said the government’s concession recognizes fewer seats for the opposition in Nis than actually were won, which would reduce Zajedno’s margin in such a way as to enable the Socialists to block decisions on the Nis City Council.

In that sense, Milosevic made a concession without really conceding anything, Djindjic said.

There has been speculation that Milosevic would relinquish Nis as a trade-off in which he would keep Belgrade - the capital of Serbia and the rump Yugoslavia, which also includes tiny Montenegro. Analysts say Milosevic will do everything in his power to retain control of the capital.

Belgrade is the real prize in the disputed municipal elections, and opposition leaders have said they will settle for nothing less.