A refusal to issue licenses to many Yugoslav broadcasters signals a new government clampdown on free speech, an association of independent media warned.

President Slobodan Milosevic has denied frequency permits to 21 mostly small, local radio and 17 television stations for purely political reasons, the Belgrade-based Association of Independent Electronic Media charged last week.The group is trying to act as a counterweight to the strictly pro-government media.

Milosevic "has decided to undertake media cleansing," said Nenad Cekic, editor of Belgrade's popular Radio Index - referring to the term "ethnic cleansing" used to describe genocidal policies aimed at ethnic minorities during the Bosnian war.

Authorities tacitly allowed stations to operate illegally as long as their news was not critical of the government.

But Milosevic and his ruling Socialist Party of former communists are now seeking to strictly control the flow of information.