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Serbian Parliament Ratifies EU Pre-Membership Pact

The Serbian parliament has overwhelmingly ratified an agreement on closer ties with the European Union, in a move widely expected to lead to Serbia's eventual entry into the bloc.

The Stabilization and Association Agreement - considered crucial to Serbia's future - will take full force only after EU officials are fully satisfied that the Serbian government is cooperating fully with the United Nations war crimes tribunal.

The pro-Western government of Serbia's President Boris Tadic has voiced strong support for Tuesday's ratification. Meanwhile, the nationalist opposition rejected it because of widespread European support for Kosovo independence.

Lawmakers also ratified an oil and natural gas deal Tuesday with Russia that clears the way for Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom, to build a pipeline to Serbia and a gas storage facility in that country.

The energy deal, signed early this year in Moscow, increases Russia's energy presence in the Balkans and boosts the already-strong economic and political ties between the two countries.

The EU agreement had been blocked for years because of Serbia's failure to arrest top war crimes suspects from the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. But the capture in July of former top Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was widely seen as paving the way for the pre-membership deal.