Today's Story Line

The West's plans to bring stability to southeast Europe depends on whether Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic stays in power. His popularity has shrunk to 15.6 percent among Serbs, protests are rising, the economy's sinking, and the Orthodox Church wants him out. His opponents say civil arrest, not new elections, will lead to his downfall.

With the loss of Kosovo, Mr. Milosevic's empire has shrunk from its early post-cold-war days. NATO tanks face off with Serb tanks at the latest border, even though in theory Kosovo is part of Serbia. Quote of note: "We're not at all assuming border patrol functions." - 1st Lt. J.R. DePinto, American commander of a checkpoint.

Leaders of the rich nations, feeling political heat to give debt relief for poor nations, have put a plan on paper to do so. But critics says its too little, and may be too late.

On another track, the World Bank is worried poverty is only increasing, and hope to change its model of development by looking at how Europe has balanced free markets with social welfare.

The Kosovo war was a catharsis for US-Russia relations. In a kiss-and-make-up moment, President Yeltsin promised to consider a US request to let it set up a defensive missile system .

- Clayton Jones, World editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB *MUDDY BELGRADE: The most difficult aspect of reporting on Yugoslavia's political scene is obtaining independent and trustworthy information about the basic facts. In the United States, politicians and journalists know the fundamentals of the Constitution and law. In Yugoslavia, the political landscape feels like a never-ending mudslide.

Belgrade-based reporter Alex Todorovic recently sat at a table and listened to two solid Belgrade journalists argue about whether Slobodan Milosevic could serve another term as president of Yugoslavia, and they concluded that he could do anything if he really wanted to. The Constitution and election law are viewed as tools of the ruling parties and are always susceptible to change. It's quite normal for experts to respond to basic constitutional law questions with, "I don't know, I'd have to look that up."

Surprisingly few educated people know anything about how Yugoslavia functions politically, how many terms the president can serve, when the last elections were or when the next elections are supposed to be. Most people don't even know how exactly Slobodan Milosevic was elected as president of Yugoslavia. The entire system seems to lack legitimacy, which explains the generally low approval ratings for all politicians.

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