Belgrade, Yugoslavia Top officials in Yugoslavia's ruling coalition formally declared President Slobodan Milosevic candidacy for re-election Sunday, submitting the results of a petition drive intended to underline his level of support in the country.
Three key Milosevic lieutenants told reporters that their activists collected nearly 1.6 million signatures supporting the president. The move was apparently aimed at countering recent opinion polls that indicated Milosevic was trailing challenger Vojislav Kostunica by a significant margin.
"Unlike other opinion polls, appearing occasionally here and abroad, we have names and signatures of all these people," said Ljubisa Ristic of neo-communist Yugoslav United Left, the party topped by Milosevic's influential wife, Mira Markovic.
Milosevic was the last candidate to submit his paperwork to the country's election commission. Only 25,000 signatures were required for a candidacy to be accepted in the Sept. 24 race, which is increasingly seen as a referendum on Milosevic's rule.
"This clearly shows people's support for Milosevic's policies of defending national sovereignty, resistance against aggressors, of reconstruction and development," said Gorica Gajevic, the secretary-general of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia.
Momir Bulatovic, who heads the pro-Serb socialist party in Yugoslavia's smaller republic, Montenegro, and also serves as a federal prime minister, added that nearly 200,000 Montenegrins supported Milosevic's candidacy.
Montenegro's pro-Western government has been taking steps toward independence to protest Milosevic's hard-line policies.
Citing recent constitutional changes that downgraded Montenegro's position in federation, the government has decided to boycott the elections. However, despite their firm opposition to the elections, Montenegrin authorities have said they would not prevent the vote from taking place.
Montenegrins are deeply divided between pro-Milosevic camp and those who support independence.