Initially opposed to liberalization, he was elected president of Serbia in 1989 and proceeded to transform its Communist party into the nationalistic Socialist party. Milošević called for the inclusion of Serb areas in other republics in a
greater Serbia as the price for Yugoslavia's dissolution. He supported Serb forces in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina after the two became independent and was widely blamed for the Serbs' military aggression and brutal
ethnic cleansing policies, but he ultimately abandoned the Serbs outside Serbia, signing (1995) a peace accord.
Barred from a third term as Serbia's president, he became president of Yugoslavia in 1997. In 1999 his government's refusal to restore autonomy to Kosovo and its harsh tactics there led to NATO air attacks (Mar.–June) on Yugoslavia as Serbian forces deported hundreds of thousands of Albanian Kosovars; Serbia was forced to withdraw from Kosovo. As a result of Serbian actions, Milošević was charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
In 2000 the Yugoslav constitution was amended to permit the president to hold office for two terms; direct presidential elections also were instituted. The changes were designed to permit Milošević to remain in power, but when elections were held he was defeated by Vojislav Koštunica. Milošević only conceded after being forced to by strikes and demonstrations and international pressure, and remained head of the Socialist party of Serbia.
In 2001 he was arrested on charges of abuse of power and corruption and later turned over to the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague, which tried him (2002) on charges of war crimes in Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia. He died, however, before his lengthy trial concluded. His family blamed his death on foul play, but a Dutch investigation found no evidence of this. Some tribunal officials believed he manipulated the treatment of his high blood pressure in an attempt to delay his trial or win release on medical grounds; earlier in 2006 an unprescribed antibiotic that interferes with blood pressure medication was found in his blood.
See biography by D. Doder and L. Branson (1999).
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