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Serbia's Presidential Election Sunday Too Close to Call


Over 6.5 million voters Serbia are eligible to take part in Sunday's presidential election, which is being viewed as a choice between greater European integration or further isolation from the West. VOA's Barry Wood reports from Belgrade that the contest is between a pro-western incumbent and a pro-Russian nationalist.

Anaylsts say Sunday's election is the most important in Serbia since a popular revolt overthrew strongman Slobodan Milosevic in the year 2000.

The contest is the between Tomislav Nikolic, the head of the Radical party, who won 40 percent of the vote in the first round two weeks ago, and incumbent Democrat Boris Tadic, who won 35 percent. Several losing candidates in the first round have thrown their support to Mr. Tadic, but the nationalist prime minister Vojislav Kustunica declined to do so. This is seen as an indirect endorsement of Mr. Nikolic.

Political analyst Svetlana Logar says the Radicals have waged an effective electoral campaign.

"The Radicals are all the time talking about fighting corruption," Logar said. "And this is true that you have a lot of corruption in Serbia. So the Radicals have a very good argument, no matter that we know who they [really] are."

Mr. Nikolic says if elected he will open two doors into Serbia, one for Russia, the other for the European Union. During the 1990s the Radicals were aligned with Slobodan Milosevic and the party's former leader, Vojislav Seselj, who is on trial in the Hague for war crimes in Bosnia.

Political analyst Bratislav Grubacic says integration with the European Union has been the main theme of Mr. Tadic's campaign.

"The idea of Tadic's campaign was to raise up the fear of the Radicals, remembering sanctions, war, and all this stuff [from the 1990s], where the Radicals were somehow involved," he said. "And we will see if this worked. If it worked, then I think Tadic will have a good chance to win."

Opinion surveys show a majority of Serbs favor closer links with western Europe. If Mr. Tadic is re-elected, there are expectations that Serbia will follow in the footsteps of other former Yugoslav republics like Slovenia and Croatia and move towards integration with the European Union.

One of the issues holding up progress toward integration is European demands that suspected war criminals from the 1990s conflict in Bosnia, be turned over to the Hague.

Both Mr. Tadic and Mr. Nikolic oppose independence for the troubled southern province of Kosovo. But Western countries expect a Nikolic victory to result in Serbia taking a more aggressive stance against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders, who are expected to declare independence in the coming weeks. Some in Serbia have called for retaliatory measures against countries that recognize an independent Kosovo.

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