Ultra-nationalists take the lead in Serbian election

By Sadie Gray
Monday 22 January 2007 01:00

Serbian voters gave the ultra-nationalist party which led the country in the 1990s, the lead in a general election which hinged on the issues of Kosovan independence and the handover of war criminals.

The Radical Party, formerly led by Slobodan Milosevic, claimed victory after taking 29 per cent of the vote, although an independent Serbian electoral institute said this was not enough to form a government.

The pro-Western Democratic Party took 23 per cent, and the ruling centre-right Popular Coalition, which has not ruled out a coalition with the Radicals, polled 17 per cent.

The ultra-nationalists' success represented a snub from voters to Western appeals for a government willing to co-operate over Kosovo and the surrender of war criminals, which are both major sticking points in Serbia's relationship with the EU and Nato.

The EU froze talks on closer ties with Belgrade eight months ago, saying they would resume only when General Ratko Mladic, charged with genocide in Bosnia, was handed over for trial in the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

A UN envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, is due next month to present a proposal for the future of Kosovo, which has been an international protectorate since the 1998-99 war. Diplomats believe his proposal will include conditional independence for Kosovo, which none of the parties want to concede.

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