Serbia's coalition government approved an EU rapprochement accord and an energy deal with Russia before Sunday's general elections. (Story: T. Adamson-Coumbousis)
Serbia's coalition government, which collapsed in disarray over East-West ties, adopted deals with the European Union and Russia on Friday, two days before crunch general elections.
An EU rapprochement accord was approved by pro-European parties without the backing of outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's nationalists, who left the cabinet session for the vote.
However they later returned to the meeting to vote on the energy deal with Russia, which was unanimously accepted by both camps.
"The two basic pillars of Serbia's foreign policy are EU integration and solid and close relations with Russia, and these two agreements confirmed that," Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, of the pro-European camp, later told a press conference.
Kostunica said in a statement that his alliance chose to walk out for the vote on the EU accord because it was "anti-constitutional and against the state and national interests of Serbia."
The cabinet session was held even though a campaign blackout entered force overnight, ahead of Sunday elections expected to give ultra-nationalists their best shot at power since Slobodan Milosevic's ouster in 2000.
As it took place, more than 1,000 supporters of the pro-Western Liberal Democratic Party staged a noisy demonstration outside the government offices in Belgrade to protest the Russian deal.
The energy deal "threatens the economic, political and strategic interests of Serbia," Vladimir Pavicevic, an LDP member and politics professor, told the rally.
The government -- a wobbly coalition of Kostunica's nationalists and President Boris Tadic's pro-Europeans -- crumbled in March after most EU nations recognised Kosovo's independence.
Tadic's Democratic Party (DS) had put on the agenda the EU Stabilisation and Association Agreement, a rapprochement accord Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic inked with Brussels on April 29.
The DS move was seen as an attempt to cast Kostunica as an anti-European and to divide the ranks and supporters of his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), many of whom still want to eventually join the 27-nation bloc.
The energy agreement -- signed by Belgrade and Moscow in January -- includes plans for a strategic gas pipeline through Serbia and the sale of 51 percent of state-owned oil monopoly NIS to Russian energy giant Gazprom.
Kostunica, who favours close ties with Russia, has made the battle to keep Kosovo within Serbia the cornerstone of his re-election bid.
Some 40 nations including the United States and all but a handful from the EU have recognised Kosovo since its ethnic Albanian-dominated parliament unilaterally declared independence on February 17.
The traumatic loss of the southern territory -- viewed by most Serbs as the cradle of their history, culture and Orthodox Christian religion -- has buoyed nationalists ahead of the elections.
As a result, the Serbian Radical Party leads Tadic's alliance of pro-European parties by a narrow margin in surveys and is expected to form a nationalist government with Kostunica's DSS.
The parliamentary and local polls will also be held in Kosovo, despite opposition from the United Nations and Kosovo Albanians about the local elections.
On Friday, hundreds of Albanians dumped garbage outside the UN and Kosovo government offices in Pristina to protest their decision to ignore the Serbian elections.
"If there were no demonstrations against Serbia's elections ... then the world would have understood this as consent or weakness from Albanians and the path for the cantonisation of Kosovo would have opened," said protest organiser Albin Kurti.
A total of 6,865,400 people are eligible to vote in the elections including more than 115,000 Serbs scattered across Kosovo, where Albanians account for around 90 percent of the 1.8 million population.
Date created : 2008-05-10