Serbia's main opposition leader says five days of anti-Communist protests have marked the start of a "charge into freedom."

Vuk Draskovic said Thursday that even though the governing Socialists swept elections in Yugoslavia's largest republic only three months ago, their order to crack down on demonstrators last weekend destroyed their legitimacy.In an interview, he predicted early elections would occur within a year, even if Serbia's Communist President Slobodan Milosevic does not call them.

Draskovic, who is the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, has in the past espoused to other Yugoslav ethnic groups the kind of tough nationalistic approach that is tearing Yugoslavia apart.

But he moderated his stand before December's elections and now says he is willing to consider various approaches to solving the discord between Yugoslavia's six republics.

Milosevic, backed by the military, wants a federation with tight control from Belgrade. Croatia and Slovenia want a looser structure, and say they will secede if they do not get it. The dispute threatens to destroy Yugoslavia.

The president of secessionist Croatia, Franco Tudjman, said in an interview published Thursday that he still regards Draskovic as having a "more extreme nationalist program" than Milosevic.

But, he added, Draskovic "would be forced to resort to a more democratic dialogue" than the Communists.

Draskovic, a veteran of student protests in 1968, has expressed strong Serbian nationalism in the past.

He has defended ethnic Serbs living in Croatia who want to be part of Serbia and has attacked ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo Province who are pressing for more autonomy.

But now he stresses negotiations. He said any agreement to keep Yugoslavia together must be based on an accord between Serbs and Croats, the two largest ethnic groups who are traditional rivals.

"The most important thing now is for Serbs and Croats to cool their heads and take a good look at the ethnic map," Draskovic said, adding: "The two peoples are so intermingled that there is no magician who could ever untangle this."

In another sharp reversal, he said he was willing to negotiate with about 2 million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, but that the area must remain Serbian.