Slobo Faces the Music -- and It's Getting Louder

Serbia's parliament is about to lift martial law. It could be a green light for an angry opposition.

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The post-Kosovo roller-coaster ride for Slobodan Milosevic may begin as early as Thursday, when the Serbian parliament is due to lift the State of War provisions currently in place. "Under the State of War laws, Serbian politicians can be jailed for encouraging protests and defiance, and some have been," says TIME Belgrade reporter Gillian Sandford. "Lifting the martial law provisions will free opposition politicians to more directly challenge Milosevic, and the country will likely enter a new political phase."

Milosevic is already facing a three-pronged challenge: Serb refugees from Kosovo are venting their sense of betrayal on Belgrade’s streets; opposition parties of every stripe are demanding fresh elections; and the Serbian Orthodox Church is openly calling for the government’s ouster. Add the fact that the country’s infrastructure is in tatters and the wages of many in the armed forces haven’t been paid in months, and you have an incendiary situation. "The risk of more turbulent, and even violent, challenges to Milosevic will rise as winter draws closer and Serbs confront the grim realities of a destroyed economy, shortages of electricity and heating and back wages unpaid," says Sandford. While Milosevic is a past master at playing different elements against each other -- his wartime government included representatives of both the ultra-nationalist and democratic oppositions -- and his control of the media may have helped him consolidate his power during the war, six months from now his manipulative powers will be considerably weakened. And he definitely won't be able to convince Serbs that they’re not hungry and cold.

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