Serbia's Tadic concedes defeat in presidential vote
Incumbent Serbian President Boris Tadic has conceded defeat in a presidential run-off against rightist opposition leader Tomislav Nikolic. Tadic had a narrow lead in the May 6 polls, but was accused of vote fraud by Nikolic.
AFP - Serbians voted Sunday in a presidential run-off with incumbent Boris Tadic, who has vowed to lead the Balkans nation into the EU, set to defeat nationalist challenger Tomislav Nikolic.
Most of the polling stations closed at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) Sunday with some staying open later to allow people already in line to vote. The first preliminary results expected later in the evening.
Surveys conducted just ahead of the final round of projected that Democratic Party leader Tadic should win comfortably with up to 58 percent of the vote.
Tadic, 54, who brought the once international pariah state to the doorstep of the European Union with candidacy status in March, has cast the vote as a referendum on pursuing EU membership.
"It is a very important day for Serbia ... I expect these elections are going to show once again that the orientation of Serbia towards the European Union is crystal clear," he said after voting Sunday.
Tadic became Serbia's first non-communist leader since World War II in 2004.
He has vowed that, if elected, Serbia will start EU membership talks by the end of this year, with the aim of joining in five years.
To get into Brussels' good books Tadic handed over last year the last remaining fugitives from the UN war crimes court hiding in Serbia, Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic and Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic.
He also agreed to talks between Belgrade and Pristina aimed at improving relations between Serbia and its breakaway province Kosovo -- a key condition for EU integration.
Opposition leader Nikolic, 60, has also promised to steer a pro-European course.
However, the recent convert to the European cause warned he would not join the 27-member bloc at any cost.
His alliance with an anti-EU party just ahead of the second round has allowed Tadic to cast doubts on Nikolic's commitment to getting Belgrade into the bloc.
During the electoral campaign Nikolic managed to cash in on voter discontent about the worsening economic situation in Serbia, which has one of the highest jobless rates in Europe at 24 percent.
At the Cvetko Market in Belgrade's Zvezdara neighbourhood, Pavle Knezevic, who started selling vegetables after he lost his job two years ago, said change could be good for Serbia after eight years of Tadic.
"Maybe for Serbia it would be better to have new leadership," the 42-year-old told AFP.
Shopper Vlasta Mladenovic, 35, who was picking out tomatoes at Pavle's stall, disagreed with him.
"It is difficult now but it would be even more difficult without the support and aid from Europe, and Europe does not trust Nikolic," she explained.
Tadic narrowly emerged on top in the May 6 first round, but Nikolic, a one-time ally of the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, accused him of vote fraud.
The claims were dismissed both by Serbia's prosecutor and electoral officials, but the accusations have cast a shadow over the polls.
"We will not allow any fraud or stealing (of the elections)," Nikolic said after casting his vote Sunday.
Tadic has pulled ahead of Nikolic after he won backing from the Socialists, the third biggest party in the Serbian parliament since legislative polls held two weeks ago.
Independent election monitor group CESID said voting was proceeding smoothly. In Kosovo the vote is organised by the European Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) which did not report any irregularities so far.
By 7:00 pm (1700 GMT), an hour before the polls closed, turnout in Serbia stood at 41.5 percent, significantly lower than in the first round of voting two weeks ago, CESID added.