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Kosovo sparking a Yugoslav purge?

One year after they assumed office, members of Yugoslavia's collective presidency are facing the first post-Tito jolt to the unity of this multinational state.

The nationalist riots that erupted in Kosovo province, which has an ethnic Albanian majority, in mid-March have shaken the confidence of the new leaders, who seemed to be enjoying smooth sailing as they held to such Tito-established policies as nonalignment.

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The unrest also prompted an outcry from a public concerned that officials had supporessed evidence of impending trouble and done nothing to prevent its developing into a full-fledged threat to the federation as a whole.

Now the Communist Party chief in the province has resigned amid calls for a purge. Mahmut Bakali accepted much of the responsibility for not heading off the extremist nationalist riots.

Ever since 1945, this backward, onetime Serb "colony" has been the problem child in the effort to forge and maintain a stable Yugoslav union of so many differing peoples, languages, and religions. Anti-Serb demonstrations have flared periodically. Steady federal aid since the 1950s, and the "Albanianization" of the police in 1966, have made little real difference.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Tito's successors are preoccupied with this first menacing threat to his dream of security through "brotherhood and unity." It has even overshadowed massive economic problems --ports still not competitive in the West despite closer ties to the European Community, and a consequent 44 percent dependency on Comecon trade.

Since 1974, Kosovo has had autonomy in all domestic affairs. Why not then republican status? It seems a simple enough solution.

The latest unrest repeated the demand that Kosovo be made a republic and incorporate Albanian populations in the neighboring republics of Macedonia and Montenegro.

A Belgrade newspaper calls it absurd to speak of exploitation (as Kosovo) extremists do) of a region that has had so much aid from the rest of the country. But economic gain s have not moderated acute nationalist sentiment or the underlying sense of social-political inferiority.

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