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Serbs on opposite sides of the street over Milosevic

Written by: Staff

BELGRADE, Aug 31 (Reuters) Some Serbs want a boulevard named after Slobodan Milosevic, the nationalist strongman who died in March. Others are fighting to keep a street called Zoran Djindjic, the reformist killed by Milosevic diehards.

The argument in Serbia's second city, Novi Sad, is symptomatic of the enduring political divide between those who view the receding decade of Balkan wars as a curse to exorcise once and for all, and those who consider it a badge of honour.

What looks like a revisionist name-game is really a bid to show which side has the most political muscle in a country where many voters are ambivalent about embracing Western values and European Union membership.

''It would be an unprecedentened scandal if Milosevic, who was a war criminal, a Hague indictee and a man who ruined millions of lives, gets his boulevard in Novi Sad,'' said Igor Pavlicic of the late Djindjic's Democratic Party.

''At the same time, they want to take down a plate with the name of Zoran Djindjic, who gave his life for a better life for the citizens of this country,'' he told the daily Blic.

Pavlicic added a promise to ''get the whole city on its feet'' to block the move with street protests if needs be.

But Novi Sad is run by the ultra-nationalist Radical Party and they liked Milosevic. Their own leader, Vojislav Seselj, shared a jail with the former Yugoslav president at the Hague war crimes tribunal until Milosevic's death.

The Radicals dominate a City Assembly coalition including Milosevic's once mighty Socialists and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's conservative Democratic Party of Serbia.

The bid for a Milosevic Boulevard came, unsurprisingly, from the Socialists in what Pavlicic said was clearly an effort to claim some resurgent political influence.

Socialist Biljana Malovic, head of the commission that proposes changing Zoran Djindjic Street back to Studentska Street, says that idea was first proposed in 2003 -- the year Djindjic was assassinated by a sniper in Belgrade.

At the time, city authorities headed by the Democratic Party refused to put the initiative on the agenda. Now the political tables have turned and the reformists are back in the minority in Novi Sad.

The outcome will interest analysts watching for clues as to how Serbia might tilt in an early general election, should Kostunica go to the polls in the next six months in the face of a challenge from the Radicals, Serbia's most popular party.

Reuters SRS VP0515

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