BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The ruling Communist Party Central Committee received authorization Tuesday to convene a special congress and replace its leadership if reforms are not quickly implemented to repair Yugoslavia's crippled economy.
About 800 delegates to a party conference overwhelmingly empowered the Central Committee to call the special party congress if needed.
Party President Bosko Krunic said the party must overcome 'weaknesses and mistakes' and the 165-member Central Committee should immediately implement reforms introduced in a government decree last Saturday.
'We must go into changes without delay,' Krunic said at the end of the three-day party conference watched by a nationwide television audience.
The reforms, which include strict free market rules in Yugoslavia's decentralized, socialist economy, are designed to arrest runaway inflation that reached an annual rate of 170 percent last year, and other problems eroding living standards.
Some party leaders feared the austerity measures would spark labor protests in the multinational country of 23 million people.
The conference did not refer directly to a special congress. It said if the Central Committee is dissatisfied with the pace of reforms by the end of this year, it should examine its responsibility, 'including all statutory measures.'
When asked by delegates to clarify the conference statement, Kurnic said 'all statutory measures' included a special party congress that automatically has to elect a new leadership.
Before the conference policy statements were passed, delegates criticized the way the leadership had handled Yugoslavia's economic crisis, with some calling for a congress to choose new leaders and others demanding a probe of alleged corruption.
'It was disatisfaction of the party members with the leadership that had forced us to stage this conference,' party official Videoje Zarkovic said.
'This is what led us to this conference to find a way out of the crisis. Now, the most important thing is that we carry into life the conference stands on intensifying the reforms in the economic and political systems and a renewal of the party,' Zarkovic said.
Zvonimir Hrabar, president of the Yugoslav Trade Union Federation, told the 800 delegates to the conference that the party needed to begin by cleaning its own house. He said the party should determine the truth of reports that some leaders acquired houses, villas and hefty bank accounts.
'Let's start from the trade union leadership, right from me, Zvonimir Hrabar,' he said. 'There are newspaper reports involving a former party leader alleging he owns villas and other things. Let's check and see whether this is true or not.'
Delegate Karel Vukovic questioned whether the current leadership could end the country's soaring inflation rate and declining standard of living.
'Those who have brought us to this crisis cannot take us out of it,' he said.