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Europe

Deep EU Rift Threatens Serbian Government

Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica accused the EU of "deceiving" Serbia with a cooperation offer and moved to block it on Tuesday, Feb. 5. He said it was a part of the Western plan to sever Serbia of Kosovo.

Vojislav Kostunica

"Never EU" reads this graffiti on a wall in Belgrade

A political accord with the EU, scheduled to be signed on Thursday, would bring Belgrade closer to the EU by relaxing visa requirements and increasing trade relations, but Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said signing the agreement would amount to giving away Kosovo.

Vojislav Kostunica

Members of Kostunica's government say it may collapse if Belgrade signs a deal with the EU

"The political agreement that the EU has proposed while it deploys a mission to dismember our country is a deception," Kostunica said in a statement, paving the way to a government crisis. "By signing, Serbia would indirectly recognize the independence of Kosovo."

Brussels sees the accord as a signal affirming Serbia's European perspective. But EU countries have also continued preparing a civilian law-enforcement mission for deployment in Kosovo once it declares independence, presumably within days, despite strong opposition from Belgrade to both plans.

In Brussels, the spokeswoman of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said nothing stood in the way of signing the accord on Thursday.

"We'd like very much to sign," Cristina Gallach said. "We think it's a good offer, and at the same time we understand very well that ... they have to undergo internal discussions."

Strife plagues cabinet

President Boris Tadic

Tadic is pushing for Serbia to intensify ties with the EU

Pro-Europe President Boris Tadic, who was re-elected on Sunday and whose party is part of Kostunica's ruling coalition, promised during his campaign to pursue EU membership regardless of Kosovo's future status.

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since a NATO campaign ended a war there in 1999. Kosovar politicians are united by a desire to declare independence, which they have said they will do by the end of February.

Belgrade, however, has promised to use all peaceful means at its disposal to prevent the province, which has a 90-percent ethnic Albanian population, from breaking away.

Hoping the parliament could keep Tadic from signing the agreement with the EU, Kostunica has called the assembly to discuss the EU deal and the bloc's plan to deploy a law-enforcement mission.

But Oliver Dulic, the parliament's speaker and a Tadic ally, has so far refused to call for an extraordinary parliamentary session, despite laws mandating that it occur. Instead he said he would consult with party leaders and convene the assembly on Monday -- after the deal is signed on Thursday.

Many observers expected that the EU agreement would shatter the coalition of Tadic and Kostunica, as the conservative prime minister shares the view of the nationalist opposition that Serbia should turn away from the EU in protest at its support of Kosovo.

Government's future hangs in balance

Tomislav Nikolic

Nikolic could play a role in a new Kostunica government should the current one collapse

Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic of Tadic's Democratic Party said Sunday's election result clearly showed that the people of Serbia wanted to work towards EU membership.

Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic also said "there could not, and would not, be any compromise on Serbia's European future."

But Infrastructure Minister Velimir Ilic, a Kostunica ally, said signing the accord could spell the end of the cabinet.

"Thursday is D-day," he said. "If they sign, anything can happen with the government."

Should the government fall, Kostunica could either seek new elections or attempt to set up a new government by entering into a pact with nationalist Serbian Radical Party, which is led by defeated presidential candidate Tomislav Nikolic.



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