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Milosevic schedules elections for Sept. 24

SHARE Milosevic schedules elections for Sept. 24

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — President Slobodan Milosevic on Thursday scheduled Yugoslavia's general and presidential elections for late September, a major test of his strength after last year's NATO bombing campaign.

Milosevic appeared on national television to sign the election decree. The Sept. 24 election will be the first in which the country's leader is elected by popular vote instead of by the federal parliament.

On Monday, parliament approved legislation giving Milosevic the option of running for two more four-year terms. It also changed the election laws to allows him to win by a simple majority, regardless of turnout.

That is an important change in a country where opposition supporters disheartened by Milosevic's autocratic 10-year rule are likely to boycott the vote.

Serbia's largest opposition party, the Serbian Renewal Movement, has indicated it may not participate in the vote, but most other opposition groups in Serbia say they will take part.

Serbia's junior partner, Montenegro, said it would boycott any ballot Milosevic calls. Its pro-Western officials said they would organize an independence referendum should Milosevic force elections on Montenegro's territory.

"Montenegro will undoubtedly not participate in this farce," Montenegrin Deputy Parliament Speaker Predrag Popovic told The Associated Press. "These elections will be a show of neo-communists who have inflicted so much evil in our region."

Opinion polls show Milosevic's popularity has dwindled since last year's NATO bombing of the country, which pushed Yugoslav forces out of the Kosovo province.

Serbia's pro-democracy movement hopes to create a coalition that would back one candidate in each district and name one candidate for the presidency. But the fledgling opposition parties in the past have failed to join forces against Milosevic.

Illustrating the ongoing rift, the Serbian Renewal Movement said it probably wouldn't take part in the vote or would participate independently. The party refused to back a joint opposition presidential candidate.

"Without Montenegro and the Serbian Renewal Movement, it will be difficult," said opposition leader Vladan Batic. "What is ahead of us now is to ... try to hammer out a common stance for the presidential and federal elections."

Other constitutional changes also affect the way Yugoslavs elect their president and legislators for the upper house of the parliament, the Chamber of Republics.

Previously, separate assemblies in Montenegro and Serbia each selected 20 of the chamber's 40 deputies. Under the new system, all deputies will be elected by popular vote, taking away Montenegro's ability to control its representation and making it easier for Milosevic to push Montenegrin politicians loyal to him.