BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) -- The government of Serbia, the largest republic of Yugoslavia and a bastion of power for former strongman Slobodan Milosevic, resigned Monday, paving the way for new elections.
The resignation came as Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, a Milosevic ally, also stepped down, Tanjug news agency said.
The moves constitute a sharp blow to Milosevic's efforts to keep a foothold in Yugoslavia's institutions. The top leaders in the Serbian government were close Milosevic allies.
Serbia is Yugoslavia's largest republic, accounting for 90 percent of Yugoslavia's population of 10 million.
Pro-democracy leader Zoran Djindjic said that new elections for the Serbian legislature, which is separate from the Yugoslav parliament, will be held on Dec. 19.
Serbian lawmakers will formally announce the decision about the government and the election date at a session later Monday, Djindjic said.
"We have achieved an important step in trying to create a transitional government, to create condition for free and fair elections," Djindjic said.
If the Serbian government were allowed to remain in place, it would have been in position to block many reforms the new government of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica wants to implement.
Given the current popular wave of support for the new president, Kostunica is likely to win a strong majority in the republic's new parliament.
Serbia's president and parliament are elected separately from federal posts and were not involved in the contentious federal vote Sept. 24. Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and other Serbian government leaders were elected in 1998 to four-year terms.
Djindjic said that a transitional government consisting of economic experts and party leaders will be formed to replace the existing Serbian administration, which is headed by Milosevic's staunch ally, Mirko Marjanovic.
Kostunica's allies have insisted that the pro-Milosevic authorities in Serbia had lost all legitimacy after a massive triumph by pro-democracy forces in elections last month.
Meanwhile, Yugoslavia's defense minister attempted Monday to rally opponents of the new government, issuing a last-ditch appeal to Milosevic's shaken supporters not to abandon the ousted leader.
Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic said that the disunity among the Serbs is inciting the plans of our proven (foreign) enemies" to occupy the country. Milosevic's allies have consistently referred to Kostunica and his followers as Western lackeys bent on taking over the Serb state.
Ojdanic, a close Milosevic ally who has also been indicted for war crimes, has not formally recognized Kostunica as the new Yugoslav president and is not expected to keep his position in the new government. He has no direct control of the military, which has fallen under Kostunica's command.
Still, he retains influence among the military brass, and any call he might make to rally pro-Milosevic forces could be problematic for the new regime.
The military leadership -- which consist mostly of Milosevic loyalists -- has only grudgingly endorsed Kostunica as the new head of state. The top generals will likely be all replaced as part of a sweeping purge of Milosevic's supporters which many pro-democracy activists and the pro-Western leadership of Montenegro -- Yugoslavia's other republic -- have long been demanding.
Yugoslavia was calm Monday.
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