Serbia voting underway

Serbian democrats are promising a new pro-Europe government as voting gets underway, despite a strong challenge from nationalists and war crimes suspects including former strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

    Former Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica vowed to speed up Euro integration

    Sunday's elections, crucial for Serbia's future place in Europe, are expected to be a close fight between radical ultra nationalists, former allies of Milosevic and moderates who hope to form a new pro-Europe government.

    More than 6.5 million voters are to elect 250 deputies in the parliament among 4000 candidates and 19 political parties and coalitions.

    Milosevic and Vojislav Seselj of the ultra nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), both prisoners in The Hague, are running and practically guaranteed to be elected.

    Milosevic and three other war crimes indictees could capture
    more than 25% of the vote, although they have little hope of
    clawing their way back into power, according to opinion polls.
      
    Instead, the Democratic Party of Serbia of former Yugoslav
    president Vojislav Kostunica and the G17 Plus party of liberal
    economist Miroljub Labus, are likely to join forces in a new
    democratic bloc.

    Kostunica vowed his party would play a major role in the incoming government which would "speed up our European integration and the European future of Serbia."

    Radical comeback feared
      
    The incumbent democratic alliance, which helped end a decade of nationalist rule under Milosevic in 2000, split last year and collapsed after the assassination of reformist prime minister Zoran Djindjic in March.

    Corruption scandals, the failure of reforms to bring quick
    economic gains and popular opposition to the UN war crimes court at The Hague, have boosted the nationalist cause.

    Milosevic (R), a prisoner at the
    Hague, is running and could win

    The ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj,
    a former Milosevic ally who surrendered to The Hague in February, is tipped to become the largest single party in parliament.

    The Radicals have promised to suspend all cooperation with The Hague, where Milosevic is among those on trial for the Balkan wars of the 1990s, while protecting communist-era jobs from Western-style market liberalistion.
      
    Their swelling political momentum-the Radicals won a
    presidential election last month only to have the result invalidated due to insufficient turnout - has alarmed European capitals.

    EU warns isolation
      
    European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has warned
    that Serbia faces a choice Sunday between better ties with Europe or "isolation."

    Polls indicate that the SRS will take the largest share of the votes, but not enough to form a new government by itself.

    Unofficial results are expected overnight on Sunday, while preliminary official ones should be made public by Wednesday.

    Polling stations opened at 07:00 am (06:00 GMT) and were due to close at 20:00pm (19:00 GMT).

    SOURCE: AFP


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