Friday, February 08, 2008

AKI: Serbia: President calls crisis talks with prime minister

Belgrade, 8 Feb. (AKI) - Serbian president Boris Tadic said on Friday he would call a meeting with prime minister Vojislav Kostunica and parliament speaker Oliver Dulic on the government crisis triggered by divisions within the ruling coalition.

Fault lines have emerged in the coalition over cooperation with the European Union and the fate of breakaway Kosovo province, whose ethnic Albanian majority is expected to declare independence in the near future. The move is strongly opposed by Belgrade and Kosovo's tiny Serb minority.

“No institutions should be paralysed, neither the government nor parliament,” Tadic said before leaving for an international conference on security in Munich taking place through Sunday.

Tadic was re-elected president last Sunday. A day later the EU decided to send a mission to Kosovo ahead of its secession from Belgrade - a decision slammed by Kostunica as tantamount to the recognition of Kosovo's independence.

Tadic and Kostunica both oppose Kosovo independence, but Kostunica insists Belgrade should shelve its plans to join the EU if Brussels recognized Kosovo, while Tadic says Serbia shouldn’t forsake its European future regardless of Kosovo fate.

The EU on Monday offered Serbia to sign a “political agreement”, easing trade and visa restrictions as a goodwill sign towards Belgrade, but Kostunica blocked the signing, saying it was a "deception".

EU commissioner Ollie Rehn said on Wednesday that Brussels was postponing the signing, because of Kostunica’s “obstruction”.

As a result, the two leaders and coalition partners split beyond the point of reconciliation and Kostunica refused to call a government meeting for the fear of being outvoted by Tadic’s 17 ministers in the 25-member cabinet.

He insisted the parliament should first take a stand on the EU proposal, but Dulic, Tadic’s right hand man, refused to convene a session of the parliament.

Tadic said he would call a meeting of the National security council next week, upon returning from Munich, and organise a meeting with Kostunica and Dulic to resolve the crisis.

But political analysts said the differences between Tadic and Kostunica were irreconcilable and an early parliamentary election might be the only way forward. Slobodan Samardzic, minister for Kosovo and Kostunica’s closest aid, said the government would fall if Tadic “insisted on signing the political agreement between the EU and Serbia.”

On the other hand, Mladjan Dinkic, Tadic’s staunchest supporter in the governing coalition, said “the process of European integration has no alternative."

"The majority in the government is for the EU, and I expect that the minority will change its mind,” Dinkic concluded.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's aide Stefan Lene meanwhile arrived in Belgrade on Friday to “exchange views” on the current situation and future relations between the EU and Serbia, local media reported.

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