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Milosevic's Iron-Fisted Grip Rusting?

Serb opposition remains cautious as two city elections are restored

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It looks as if Serbia's powerful leader, President Slobodan Milosevic, is finally bowing to international criticism and the unprecedented, two-month long street protests that have followed his refusal to hand over local control of some 13 cities to opposition control.

Local election commissions in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, and the second-largest city, Nis, simultaneously restored opposition victories on Tuesday that had been canceled by the government in November.

"Milosevic wants this to end - and quickly," one senior Socialist Party official told journalists in Belgrade.

While some are hailing the move as a sign of Mr. Milosevic's crumbling resolve, opposition leaders remain cautious.

"I believe nothing," said Zoran Djindjic, one of the opposition leaders, when he heard that the government appeared to be caving in over the local elections. "This is another attempt to buy time. We will continue our protests."

The Belgrade commission did make a similar ruling before, only to see the decision overturned by the courts. But this time the commission rulings were heavily covered by the media, one sign that the opposition victories would be allowed to stand - but the signals are mixed.

One Socialist official reputedly close to Milosevic told state television that the party had not made up its mind yet what to do. The official, Dusan Matkovic, says no decision had been taken about whether to use a 48-hour period - which ends today - to appeal the ruling.

"It is just a stand of the electoral commission," he says. "The legal institutions still have to speak their word."

A commentary by the official Tanjug news agency called the legal basis for the commissions' actions "unusual." Add to this unconfirmed reports in the Belgrade press, quoting Socialist sources, that there would be an appeal, and it seemed the opposition had every reason to be cautions about declaring the end of the crisis over the local election results.

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