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Serbia's Vucic Sweeps to Presidency in 1st Round


Serbian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Aleksandar Vucic speaks during a press conference after claiming victory in the presidential election, in Belgrade, Serbia, April 2, 2017.

Conservative Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has won Sunday's presidential election by a wide margin, affirming his control over political life in a country seeking warmer relations with the West while strengthening ties with traditional ally Russia.

Independent pollsters late Sunday showed the 47-year-old Vucic carrying about 55 percent of the vote, assuring an outright first-round victory by pulling more than the required 50 percent.His nearest rival, opposition candidate Sasa Jankovic, was carrying just over 16 percent.

Vucic, a trained lawyer, has since 2008 pushed for Serbia's entry into the European Union, signaling a dramatic shift from his ultra-nationalist stance of the 1990s as a member of the far-right Serbian Radical Party.

He joined that party in 1993, rising to prominence with fiery speeches in which he defended the actions of ethnic Serb forces and their leaders during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

In 2008, however, he shocked political analysts and pundits when he split from the Radicals to co-launch a center-right Progressive Party that advocated cooperation with the West.

He further stunned supporters that year when he reframed the 1995 Serb massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica as a "horrible crime," after defending the wartime genocide for more than a decade.

He also has pushed for improving ties with former foe Kosovo - a key European requirement for Belgrade's entry into the 28-nation trade bloc.

Vucic was named deputy prime minister in 2012 following the election win of his Serbian Progressive Party, and became prime minister two years later.

He is widely expected to name an ally to the post of prime minister and then transform the presidency from a ceremonial role to an office in which he can control policy-making and political life in general in the country of 7.2 million residents.