BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Serbia's Communist president Monday sought to assert his nationalist credentials in a speech that set Yugoslavia's largest republic on a possible collision course with its two main rivals over the country's political future.
President Slobodan Milosevic also reiterated in his 30-minute address to the Serbian Assembly his resolve to amend Serbia's constitution before scheduling the republic's first multi-party elections since World War II.
He called for a referendum on his plan in an apparent tactic to discredit demands by the republic's anti-communist opposition that elections be held before a new constitution is adopted.
Milosevic's speech to the single-party Serbian legislature was carried live on state-run television and radio.
The Communist Party of Serbia has outlined a draft constitution that would end its monopoly on power and allow multi-party elections. But its delay in pursuing enactment has stoked charges that it is playing for time in order to prepare for elections.
Most of Milosevic's address was aimed at reharnessing growing Serbian nationalist emotions that he unleashed on taking power three years ago but which have been shifting to the opposition.
Serbian nationalism has been fueled by the April victories of nationalists in the republics of Slovenia and Croatia in the first free elections held in Yugoslavia since the 1945 communist takeover.
The nationlist trends and fears among smaller ethnic groups of hegemony by the 8.5 million-strong Serbian majority has led to a disputes over the future political structure of what has been a loose federation of six republics.
Milosevic, 49, said his government wants Yugoslavia to become a federation with a multi-party political system, capitalist-style economy and a stronger central government.
That position is being advocated by federal Prime Minister Ante Markovic, but opposed by the nationalist administrations in Slovenia and Croatia, which are demanding a confederation in which they would control of their own economic, political and security affairs.
Milosevic said that should Slovenia and Croatia refuse to relent, Serbia would only join a confederation after Croatia returned Serbian-dominated areas it gained after World War II.
'If there is a confederation, the borders must be changed,' he said.
He said his government's draft constitution provides for a united Serbia and guarantees the 'protection of the interests of the Serbian people who live outside Serbia.'
The differences between the republics over Yugoslavia's future political shape have raised fears among many Yugoslavs of a civil war.
On another emotional issue, Milosevic said the draft constitution would put an end to wishes of ethnic Albanian separatists in the province of Kosovo by eliminating many areas of self-rule.
Kosovo has been wracked by bloodshed between the ethnic Albanian majority and its 200,000 minority Serbs and is regarded by Serbs as the birthplace of their heritage. They claim the 1.7 million ethnic Albanians want to join neighboring Albania.
Ethnic Albanians contend they want Kosovo, which once had a Serbian majority, to be given greater autonomy.