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Warlord's party hopeful of winning seats


In this story:

Gangland killing

Nationalist optimism


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BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The political party once led by Serbian warlord Arkan -- died in a hail of bullets in a Belgrade hotel almost a year ago -- has a chance of winning seats in the parliament of newly democratic Serbia.

The prospect of the Party of Serbian Unity (SSJ) entering the legislature of Yugoslavia's main republic is likely to dismay Western capitals hoping Serb nationalism would fade away after the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic.

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Arkan, whose real name was Zeljko Raznatovic, won a seat in the Serbian legislature eight years ago, but the SSJ was not in the outgoing assembly.

Assassinated aged 47 in the lobby of Belgrade's Intercontinental Hotel in January, Arkan had been indicted for war crimes by a United Nations court for leading paramilitary units in the Bosnian and Croatian wars in the early 1990s.

Gangland killing

Interpol also wanted him for several bank robberies. But to some Serbs he was a hero who risked his life for their country.

Arkan's death was one in a series of high-profile, gangland-style killings marking the final years of Milosevic's authoritarian rule as Yugoslav president.

A policeman off duty at the time of the attack pleaded innocent to accusations of murdering Arkan when his trial started two months ago. Belgrade prosecutors have also charged nine other men in connection with the killing.

Zoran Djindjic, set to become Serbian prime minister after the 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia bloc routed Milosevic's Socialists on Saturday, suggested tensions in southern Serbia had boosted the SSJ vote.

The remote area close to the Kosovo boundary was hit by ethnic Albanian guerrilla attacks last month that left four Serbian police dead and angered the local Serb population.

"The fact that such a party will be represented in parliament is just one more proof of how carefully society must be healed and radical demagogy avoided," Djindjic said.

Nationalist optimism

Darko Brocic of the polling agency Strategic Marketing said the SSJ had received many more votes than surveys had indicated, notably beating the Serbian Renewal Movement of maverick nationalist Vuk Draskovic.

Political analyst Vladmir Goati attributed the SSJ's success to the crushing defeat of the hardline Radical Party in federal elections in September, which Milosevic and his allies lost.

He said this had prompted many supporters of the Radical Party -- formerly in coalition with Milosevic's Socialists -- to give their votes to another ultra-nationalist party.

The official early returns indicated the Radical Party, led by hardline nationalist Vojislav Seselj, was on course to win about 22 seats, down from 83 in the old assembly.

But Borislav Pelevic, leader of the SSJ and best man to Arkan when he married the popular Serbian folk singer Ceca in 1996, said he had expected his party to do even better.

"I don't know what's going on and I don't want to accuse anyone of robbery, but we did expect to win more votes," said Pelevic, who used to command Arkan's Serb Volunteer Guard, of which the paramilitary "Tigers" were the most dreaded part.

Nevertheless, he said it would be a great success if the party did enter parliament.

"The Party of Serbian Unity will be a constructive opposition in parliament and will be giving proposals on how to liberate Serbia," he told reporters on Sunday morning.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Serb policeman denies killing Arkan
October 17, 2000
Arkan dies in shooting
January 15, 2000
Milosevic party concedes election defeat
December 24, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Arkan's 'Tigers'
Institutional Origins of Contemporary Serbian Nationalism

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