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New Yugoslav President Seeks to Ensure Army Loyalties

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In Belgrade, Yugoslavia, new President Vojislav Kostunica is seeking to ensure army loyalties amid resistance by Slobodan Milosevic’s allies to attempts to push them from power. But an increasing number of people from the old regime are stepping aside. We go to Belgrade to speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill.

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AMY GOODMAN: And this news from Belgrade, Yugoslavia: New President Vojislav Kostunica is seeking to ensure army loyalties amid resistance by Slobodan Milosevic’s allies to attempts to push them from power. But an increasing number of people from the old regime are stepping aside. We go right now to Belgrade, where Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill is standing by.

Jeremy, what’s the latest?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, as you said, Vojislav Kostunica is meeting with the military as we speak. This discussion that was begun yesterday of a transitional government on the republican level in Serbia, not the federal level where Kostunica holds his power, has hit a lot of roadblocks. The former ruling coalition of the socialists and the Yugoslav United Left, as well as the radicals, are really trying to prevent Vojislav Kostunica from taking over the police force in Serbia, which really is the last and strongest bastion of power of Slobodan Milosevic. They are demanding that they be allowed to take over the Ministry of the Interior, and the former ruling coalition is not allowing them to do that. As one opposition politician said yesterday, the police right now belong to no one and everyone. They are continuing to function with their wiretapping and surveillance of people, with really no commander-in-chief at this point. They are sort of organized sects that are continuing to engage in the sorts of activities that they did during the era of Slobodan Milosevic. This is going to be a major issue for Vojislav Kostunica in the weeks ahead, because many argue he doesn’t have the constitutional authority to take over Serbian republican institutions.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jeremy, what about the reports of attacks, of vigilante groups attacking former government heads of Milosevic’s faction?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, that is happening, Juan. It’s a reality here. These are revenge attacks. For instance, the head of Radio Television Serbia was beaten mercilessly last week. A head of another property or company owned by the regime was also attacked by former workers. It seems that there is little effort right now on the part of opposition forces loyal to Vojislav Kostunica to try to end this. It’s not clear, though, that these are vigilante attacks. There are units of the antiterrorist police that are now on the side of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, and some of these attacks appear to be very calculated and carried out with a precision that doesn’t seem to be renegade vigilante attacks.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, I’m looking at an AP report right now that says, “A telegenic philosopher who once aspired for the presidency is emerging as the main power behind the pro-democracy movement that unseated Slobodan Milosevic.” And they’re talking about Zoran Dindic leading the Democratic Party, it says, the largest member of the 18-party umbrella organization known as the Democratic Opposition of Serbia. This is a man who you interviewed. We’re going to hear a lot more about him.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, Zoran Dindic is perhaps the most pro-West politician in the country right now. He was the man who was traveling abroad during the bombing, meeting with people like Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke. And many observers feel that that’s where the real power lies in this government, not with Vojislav Kostunica. Zoran Dindic has been the person who really has been leading the attempted armed takeover of many of the republican institutions here. He’s the one who was attacked by the Milosevic government during the campaign as being a stooge for NATO. And he’s really the one right now who I think is posing the most problems for Vojislav Kostunica, because he himself is acting like a renegade and is acting in a very deep spirit of revenge, taking armed people into police stations and companies and demanding that they resign.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jeremy, what about the European Union’s opening of the spigot, so to say, with Yugoslavia now in terms of aid? Is it being felt already economically in the country? Is there an easing of the economic problems for the general population?

JEREMY SCAHILL: I wouldn’t say that. I mean, we’ve seen a stabilization of the currency. And just today, prices have started to drop a little bit. But I really think that the main issues surrounding Yugoslavia’s reintegration into the international community are going to end up being Kosovo and Montenegro. The government of Montenegro, the junior republic in Yugoslavia, is not recognizing Vojislav Kostunica as the federal president. They’re referring to him as the new Serbian Democratic president. The government there of Milo Dukanovic has gotten more than $30 million from the United States. This is going to be a key issue for Kostunica to have to resolve in order to get that Western European and American pipeline of money flowing fast.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, thanks so much for being with us from the streets of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Democracy Now! correspondent.

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