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Europe

Serbia's Tadic Welcomes Milosevic's Old Party into Government

Serbian President Boris Tadic has wiped a huge slate clean by taking the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists (SPS) as coalition partners of his Democratic Party (DS).

Serbian President Boris Tadic

Serbian President Boris Tadic calls the Socialists into his coalition government

The two parties, once bitter foes, say they buried the hatchet on Tuesday, June 24, and agreed to the unlikely coalition in the interest of Serbia's future, sidelining ultra-nationalists calling for an anti-Western course in a bid to build another possibly volatile government.

"Shake hands with the people you battled during the 1990s and find solutions for a better future," Tadic told his party earlier in June.

"We did not decide to back DS ... We decided for Serbia and the Socialist Party," SPS head Ivica Dacic said Monday, announcing that his party overwhelmingly backed a coalition with Tadic, who says he wants Serbia to join the EU eventually.

Former enemies join to form government

A socialist party supporter holds a photo of Slobodan Milosevic

Milosevic's Socialists are still very active and popular

Socialists and Democrats were enemies in the 1990s, when Milosevic practiced repressive power not only over media and elections, but also over death squads.

The coalition deal buried a lot of the past, shocking many former opposition activists.

It was under Milosevic's rule that journalists were beaten, even killed. Then opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, now a part of Tadic's camp, escaped two assassination attempts by members of Milosevic's murky special police unit.

The same unit assassinated Serbia's pro-Western premier and DS leader Zoran Djindjic in 2003. The rogue policemen were sentenced to hundreds of years in prison for the killings after difficult trials that confirmed the unit's links to Milosevic.

The animosity went both ways -- the Socialists were unperturbed, at best, when Djindjic was slain. They had branded him a traitor during Serbia's 1999 war with NATO and accuse him of election fraud when Milosevic was toppled in 2000.

The Socialists loathe Djindjic for turning over Milosevic for an international war crimes trial in 2001 and for what they say is vengeful persecution of the Milosevic family. The former strongman died in his cell while on trial.

Complications arise from continuing trials

There is a host of trials, including those charging Milosevic's widow, son and daughter, but also SPS officials, which remained buried in inefficient and corrupt courts.

Investigations such as the slaying of journalist Slavko Curuvija, which is believed to have involved Milosevic's secret service, are likely to remain stalled if Dacic becomes interior minister, as media reported.

Ivica Dacic, president of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists Party of Serbia (SPS) touches the wooden cross atop of Milosevic's grave

Dacic was close to Milosevic at the height of his power

Dacic was part of the regime, close to Milosevic, when the deeds were done. With the SPS in government, Serbia also seems certain not to arrest top war crimes suspects -- a key condition for reviving its progress toward EU membership.

Critics of Tadic's reconciliation with the Socialists now worry that Serbia will quietly drop cases against Milosevic's wife, son, daughter and the few accused officials.

Former prime minister and Djindjic's deputy Zoran Zivkovic, whom Tadic sidelined in DS in 2004, said his party was again, as in the outgoing coalition with the nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, paying too high a price to junior partners.

"The SPS will have the decisive influence in the cabinet," he told reporters.

West welcomes the DS-dominated cabinet

Serbia's prime minister and the leader of the conservative coalition, Vojislav Kostunica

Kostunica saw his cabinet collapse after just 10 months

The West welcomed the news of the DS-dominated cabinet, even if it includes Milosevic's men, because the alternative was a government headed by hard-line nationalists, who wanted to turn Serbia fully away from EU prospects.

But many, as Zivkovic, do not see the emerging coalition as long- lived and predict elections soon, possibly within a year. "We are facing another lost year," he said.

Kostunica's 10-month-old cabinet collapsed in March over Serbia's course and Kosovo's declaration of independence. The May 11 elections were held just 15 months after the previous, also premature poll.

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