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NOVI SAD, Serbia -- The assembly of Serbia's northern province of Vojvodina has adopted a statute that will give it back some of the autonomy from Belgrade that it lost nearly two decades ago, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

The adoption of the statute left some Serbian politicians worried about separatism, but it was welcomed by Serbian President Boris Tadic and other top Serbian officials even though they did not attend a ceremony marking it on December 14 in the provincial capital, Novi Sad.

Vojvodina assembly speaker Sandor Egeresi said, "For us in Vojvodina, this is the most important moment, but [Serbian] officials probably had more important things to do."

Vojvodina and Kosovo -- which declared independence last year -- were Serbian provinces with a large degree of autonomy and representation in the Serbian as well as former Yugoslav federal structures.

That ended in the late 1980s when Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic abolished the two provinces' constitutions and put them under de facto direct rule from Belgrade.

Nationalist politicians on December 14 decried the decentralization of Vojvodina as a continuation of the partition of Serbia.

The statute passed by Vojvodina's assembly was adopted in the Serbian parliament earlier this month after a long and heated debate that included a nationalist deputy throwing his shoe at the parliament's speaker in protest of the statute passing.

Ethnic Hungarians make up some 15 percent of Vojvodina's 2 million residents.

The province has six official languages -- Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian, Croatian, and Pannonian Rusyn -- and is home to some 26 ethnic groups.
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