Tue, Jun 29, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Reformer wins Serbian presidency

MODERATE TILT Boris Tadic won 53.5 percent of votes in the Sunday election, beating ultra-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic, who won the first round of voting

AP , BELGRADE, SERBIA-MONTENEGRO

A reformist, pro-Western politician defeated a nationalist ally of former president Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia's presidential elections and pledged to take the Balkan republic closer to the EU and NATO.

Democratic Party chief Boris Tadic, 46, won 53.5 percent of votes in the Sunday ballot. Tomislav Nikolic of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party won 45.09 percent in the election, viewed as a crossroads for Serbia.

"This means a true rebirth of Serbia ... a triumph over dark policies of the past," Tadic said, referring to the 1990s war campaigns and international isolation of Serbia during the rule of Milosevic and his Radical allies.

Tadic's Democrats were at the forefront of the 2000 uprising against Milosevic, but painful economic and political reforms in recent years led to a resurgence of nationalism and fears that the hard-liners could regain control. The Democrats lost parliamentary elections in December and handed over government leadership to moderate nationalists and conservatives.

Nikolic garnered most votes in the first round of voting two weeks ago, but fell short of outright victory. Tadic won the runoff after receiving endorsement from several candidates eliminated in the first round.

"Serbia can now safely continue on its path of European integration" and strive for membership in NATO "which is not just our fate but a willing choice of our nation, expressed and confirmed in these elections," Tadic said late Sunday.

Nikolic conceded defeat, but blamed his loss on "almost all Serbian politicians and the West for spreading fear" that Serbia would fall back into isolation if he won.

Crucial Western support to cash-strapped Serbia hinges on its cooperation with the Netherlands-based UN war crimes tribunal, including extradition of suspects indicted for their role in the 1990s Balkan wars. Milosevic and several of his allies are on trial at the court.

Nikolic is fiercely opposed to the UN tribunal, blasting it as politicized and anti-Serb.

Tadic made no reference to the much-debated cooperation with the tribunal in his victory speech but pledged that he would ensure that Serbia "meets its international obligations."

He also promised to help find a "peaceful solution for Kosovo," the province in southern Serbia that became an international protectorate in 1999 when NATO bombing forced Milosevic to stop his crackdown on Kosovo's independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.

But reviving Serbia's economy tops the list of priorities, he added.

"Solutions to economic problems are the foundation of all other solutions. An economic vitality of Serbia will be a guarantor for all our political projects, for our defense, even for our efforts to find a solution for Kosovo," said Tadic, elected for a five-year term.

A soft-spoken Sarajevo-born psychologist and Belgrade college professor, he entered politics in 1990 as a member of the pro-Western Democratic Party. He took over the party leadership after assassination of prime minister Zoran Djindjic in March last year.

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