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Milosevic rides out loss to NATO

Although he may be challenged at home, his power is intact despite

Milos, a taxi driver, is calling for a violent coup.

Jelena, a college student, wants change through democratic elections.

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Nemanja, a gas smuggler, doesn't care how it happens - just as long as Slobodan Milosevic is out of office before autumn.

"I think there will be a revolution when people find out the truth about the peace deal," says Nemanja, who's worked on the black market since NATO airstrikes began.

But despite popular opinion in the Yugoslav capital, Mr. Milosevic seems to have survived a capitulation to NATO with his political power intact. He has done so after more than 70 days of punishing airstrikes, during which much of Yugoslavia's infrastructure and military has been destroyed.

He has also accepted an international plan that, for Serbs, is worse than what they were offered before NATO started bombing - because the size of Serbian forces to be allowed in Kosovo has been downscaled, while the number of peacekeeping troops set to enter the region has nearly doubled.

"Milosevic is thinking about survival, and that is what he will do," says Zoran Zivkovic, mayor of the southern city of Nis and vice president of the opposition Democratic Party. "I'm sure there will be no popular revolt."

Cracks in Milosevic's grip on power are virtually imperceptible. But if there are any, they may come from several sources: Milosevic's ultranationalist ruling partner Vojislav Seselj, who enjoys popular support and is in a good position to criticize Milosevic; Milo Djukanovic, president of Montenegro, who is in a struggle to keep power against Milosevic's allies; the Kosovar Serbs, whose cause Milosevic has let down; and Yugoslavia's economic elite, who may face difficulty in rebuilding and may pressure Milosevic.

Each of these entities, though, probably lacks enough sway to dislodge Milosevic.

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Although there are no clear signs how long he will last, analysts say the Yugoslav president is likely to stay in power by portraying the peace deal with NATO as a victory. It's the same thing he did with wars in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia.

"From what I've seen in the past 10 years, people will think that we won the war," says a political analyst in Belgrade. "The Army is behind Milosevic, the opposition is weak, and the people are tired."

Milosevic will succeed, analysts say, because he pulls the strings of the economy, the police force, and almost every institution in the country. The political opposition is splintered and without the means to challenge Belgrade's highly centralized regime.

Having cracked down on the media before the war started, Milosevic has top-to-bottom control of TV, radio, and newspapers.

"A brave and wise decision," proclaimed the leading Serbian newspaper, Politika, in a weekend headline about the capitulation.

Milosevic, furthermore, is likely to ensure his position by continuing a shrewd balancing act within his own government. Analysts predict he will replace Mr. Seselj with a moderate, Vuk Draskovic, whom Milosevic fired in April.

By bringing Mr. Draskovic back into the government, he would put a more palatable twist on the ruling coalition - one designed to gain some Western support and marginalize those who will criticize him for letting foreign troops into Kosovo.

It is also expected that Milosevic, the federal president, will make his post more ceremonial and work behind the scenes instructing his loyalists who control the country at the republic level.

"The probable goal of such a government would be to direct Serbian politics toward the West," says VIP, a respected independent newsletter in Belgrade.

As he did at the Dayton peace conference to end the war in Bosnia, Milosevic is likely to try to be the guarantor of peace in Kosovo. Already, through negotiations with envoys from Russia and the European Union, he was the sole arbitrator for the Yugoslav side.

But the West, unable to claim a complete victory as long as Milosevic is in power, may not be a willing partner this time. They may not want to help rebuild a country that is blamed for starting four wars in a decade.

Yugoslavia's few allies, including Russia and Belarus, are too poor to give much help.

Complicating matters further, the international war-crimes tribunal recently charged Milosevic with spearheading the "ethnic cleansing" campaign in Kosovo. It is unclear if he will be received or visited by Western officials.

All of which leaves the Serbs facing yet more isolation, instability, and poverty.

And a final solution for Kosovo remains elusive. It has yet to be seen if an international peacekeeping force will stop the deep antagonism between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo - and if the Kosovo Liberation Army will settle for autonomy when they really want independence.

In the meantime, many Serbs are planning their escapes to the West, and traditional Milosevic supporters have yet to be spurred into action by a steadily diminishing quality of life.

"I'm for peace as soon as possible," says Dragoljub Velickovic, who is unemployed. "As soon as it comes, they're going to open the borders - and that's all I need. I'm gonna get out of here and never come back."

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