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Reformist, Nationalist Compete in Serbian Presidental Election - 2004-06-27

Voting is underway in Serbia for the second and final round of a presidential election that Western diplomats have called a choice between reforms, or international isolation. Pro-Western candidate, Boris Tadic, is running against the ultra-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic.

Most parties have united behind Boris Tadic, who favors Western-style reforms and Serbia's integration into the European Union to overcome more than a decade of international isolation because of its role in the Balkan wars.

Mr. Tadic has also suggested that he is open for more cooperation with the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal, a crucial condition for both EU membership and foreign aid.

By contrast, his ultra-nationalist rival, Tomislav Nikolic, of the Serbian Radical Party, has pledged never to force Serbs to surrender to the U.N. court in The Hague, and made clear he would not be in any hurry to join the European Union. That does not seem to worry some Serbs gathering at a newspaper kiosk not far from a polling station.

One young man is proudly wearing a T-shirt with pictures of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, who both are wanted by the U.N. tribunal on war crimes charges for their roles in the Bosnian war.

Another man, 48-year-old taxi driver Pusica Momir, says he is not worried that Mr. Nikolic's election could delay Serbia's integration with Europe, saying reformists have not achieved anything since the ouster of former President Slobodan Milosevic, who is currently on trial at the war crimes tribunal.

"We must first clean up the garbage in our house, after that, [connect] with neighbors and Europe," he commented. "After Milosevic, almost four years passed, but nothing changed, nothing changed."

He says many people can barely survive on incomes of roughly $170, or less, as prices increase.

Some younger people are investing their hopes for a better future in Mr. Tadic. Twenty-six-year old Natasha Krstic, says she and her fiance are considering starting a family, if Mr. Tadic is elected.

KRSTIC: I think that he is the best for us and our children

BOS: Do you have children already?

KRSTIC: No, but when Tadic wins, we will have.

Analysts agree that Mr. Tadic will need the support of young voters to win the ballot.

Opinion polls suggested his victory hinges on a high turnout. Analysts have warned that a low turnout will favor the ultra-nationalist Mr. Nikolic of the Serbian Radical Party, who counts on many elderly, disciplined voters.

Exit polls and early results are expected late Sunday.