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President who snared Milosevic loses election

The Serb nationalist Tomislav Nikolic has won the presidential elections in Serbia, defeating the pro-European and reform-oriented incumbent Boris Tadic.

To many analysts, the result came as a political earthquake and a slap in the face for Mr Tadic's Democrats who orchestrated the downfall of former strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

A tally of 100 per cent of polling stations by prominent independent pollster Cesid gave Mr Nikolic 49.8 per cent of votes and Mr Tadic 47 per cent, with a low turnout that stood at 46.3 per of the country's nearly 6.8 million voters.

Visibly taken aback, Mr Tadic, who has served two terms in office, recognised Mr Nikolic's victory, saying that the "citizens of Serbia have decided that the new President of Serbia is Mr Nikolic and I congratulate him on that.

"It was a fair and deserved victory and I wish him all the luck." Mr Tadic led the nation down the path to EU candidacy, obtained in March and portrayed the presidential run-off yesterday as a referendum on EU membership.

However, the harsh effects of the global economic downturn in the past years have hit Serbia very hard. Unemployment stands at 24 per cent and Mr Tadic's Democrats are widely accused for corruption, ceding of power to tycoons and ignoring the basic health, education and social needs of the population.

Analysts agree that many sympathisers of Mr Tadic's Democratic Party have abstained from voting, punishing him for the general social erosion in the country.

"Serbia will not stray from its European path," Mr Nikolic told his supporters in Belgrade. He added that his priorities now were "Moscow, Brussels and Washington, not certainly in this order," as he was willing to co-operate with the European nations and the US, but also with Russia, considered as a traditional political ally of Serbia.

Mr Nikolic added that he'd ask for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, "as Germany is the main ally of Serbia in the EU".

Mr Nikolic heads the Serbian Progressive Party. In his populist campaign he promised investment in agriculture and industry, taxing the rich and raising the country's meagre pensions.