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Bush, Gore praise Milosevic's ouster

ORLANDO (CNN) -- The U.S. major-party presidential candidates were quick to praise Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's fall from power in Yugoslavia on Friday as a dispute over the issue from Tuesday's debate lingered below the pleasantries.

Milosevic's tenure saw the secession of most Yugoslav republics and four Balkan wars, including the 1999 conflict with NATO over Kosovo. He recognized opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica as the country's president-elect after nearly two weeks of turmoil capped by protesters in Belgrade sacking the Yugoslav parliament building Thursday.

Milosevic
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic admits defeat in the Yugoslav election in an address on Serb television  

Shortly before Milosevic made his announcement, Vice President Al Gore cheered the developments and offered hope that the nation -- now made up of just Serbia and Montenegro -- could soon rejoin the mainstream of Europe.

"This is the beginning of a new era for Serbia, and I want to congratulate the people of Serbia for expressing their choice for freedom and democracy -- first at the ballot box, and then in this joyful expression in the streets that has toppled Milosevic at long last," said Gore, the Democratic nominee for president.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, said the United States should congratulate the Yugoslavs "for fighting for freedom."

"The election of Mr. Kostunica and the apparent departure of Mr. Milosevic is an opportunity for a new start for all the people of Yugoslavia," Bush said.

Bush also praised the Russian decision Thursday to recognize Kostunica as Yugoslavia's rightful leader, urging Moscow to use its influence with its longtime Balkan ally to ensure a peaceful transition.

The Yugoslav presidential election came up in Tuesday's presidential debate between Bush and Gore, with many observers giving Gore the advantage: Bush had called for the U.S. to seek Russian aid in defusing the crisis that unfolded after the September 24 vote, but Gore rebuked him by noting that the Russians had not yet recognized Kostunica as the winner.

Bush aides contended Friday that their man was ahead of the curve by seeking Russian mediation. Gore aides quickly noted that there was nothing to mediate: Milosevic simply lost.

Senior White House Correspondent John King and CNN.com Writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.

 
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