Democrats bid to unite as Serb ultras on rise

SERBIA’S president yesterday called on pro-democratic parties to put differences aside and quickly form a coalition government to stave off gains made by ultra-nationalists in weekend parliamentary elections.

The formation of a government has taken on added urgency because a UN envoy is expected later this week to deliver his recommendations on whether the southern Serbian province of Kosovo should become independent.

The politician considered most likely to become the prime minister designate in a pro-Democracy coalition, Bozidar Djelic, warned that releasing the report before the formation of a new government would only bolster the ultra-nationalists further.

The report is expected to recommend some form of conditional independence for Kosovo — and would surely become an even greater rallying point for nationalists opposed to giving up the territory.

Other points of debate likely to bog down coalition talks include the long-sought detention of suspected war criminals, as well as Serbia’s prospects for edging toward membership of the European Union.

“The new government has to be formed as soon as possible,” said President Boris Tadic, whose Democratic Party won most votes within the pro-democracy bloc. “I will offer a premiership mandate to the one who has a best chance to gain a majority.”

The Radicals, loyal to the ideas of the late Slobodan Milosevic and staunchly opposed to Kosovo’s independence, won 28.3% of Sunday’s vote. But that was not enough for the hardline party to govern alone, and there is a race by the pro-democracy camp to unite and form a government.

The current prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, whose centre-right Popular Coalition came in third — allowing him a kingmaker role in forming a ruling coalition — insists on retaining the influential post.

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