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Projections Put Ultra Nationalists Ahead in Serbian Election - 2003-12-28

Projections from Serbia's parliamentary election show ultra-nationalists are expected to win the most votes, but not enough to control the legislature. Early results show the Serbian Radical Party winning 27 percent of the vote, well short of the number needed to take control of parliament from pro-democracy parties. There is pressure on moderate parties to unite.

Preliminary election results from The Center For Free Elections and Democracy show about one in four Serbian voters cast ballots for the Serbian Radical Party, which is closely associated with ousted President Slobodan Milosevic.

Like Mr. Milosevic, the Serbian Radical Party's main candidate, Vojislav Seselj, is in prison in The Hague for trial on war crimes charges.

The three main democratic parties could use their majority of seats in the 250 member parliament to form a coalition government if they can resolve their political differences.

The chairman of the pro-Western G-17-Plus party, Miroljub Labus, suggested it was important to unite and keep the nationalists out of power. "I do expect not just to win over the Radicals but also to create a stable, democratic government," he said.

The strong showing of the Serbian Radical Party and Mr. Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia has worried Western diplomats who say it could destabilize the whole Balkan region.

The Radicals have called for a greater Serbia by extending the republic's borders at the expense of neighbors as well as cutting diplomatic ties with Serbia's wartime enemy, Croatia.

There are fears this could re-ignite the tensions of the Balkan wars of the 1990s in which a quarter of a million people died.

The Serbian Radical Party vowed not to extradite war crimes suspects, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military commander, General Ratko Mladic, who have been linked to one of Europe's worst massacres since World War II.

U.N. prosecutors say both men played a key role in the killings of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995.

Once the parliamentary seats are distributed, the oldest deputy will give the mandate to a leader who can guarantee his party or coalition would have sufficient support in the assembly.

A president of Serbia would normally pick a prime minister-designate, but that post has been vacant since January 2002 as three attempts to elect a new head of the republic failed because of low turnout.