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Serbia To Vote In New Pro-Western Government

Mirko Cvetkovic
BELGRADE -- Serbia's new government will focus on quick entry into the European Union, strengthening the country's economy and keeping Kosovo as a part of Serbia, Prime Minister-designate Mirko Cvetkovic has said.

In his address to parliament before the vote that will confirm him as head of a pro-Western coalition, Cvetkovic said the government aimed at 7 percent GDP growth a year, and would pursue strong economic ties with both East and West.

"Our plan is that at the end of this government's mandate Serbia will be ready to get into the EU," Cvetkovic said.

Cvetkovic, a 57-year-old economist and a senior Democrat, will lead a coalition of the liberal Democratic Party and the Socialist Party.

As well as speeding up Serbia's path to the European Union after years of delay, his government will be tasked with changing its image of belligerence and defiance and pushing through long-delayed economic reforms to woo investors.

In his speech, Cvetkovic said economic reforms remained a priority, with the government aiming at a tight budget policy, speeding up privatizations and attracting foreign investment.

"Going down that path to [EU] membership, we will pursue reforms that will align our economic and judicial system with EU norms."

He said Serbia would not give up the diplomatic fight for Kosovo and would set aside funds for ethnic Serbs in the territory, which declared independence in February.

Socialist Comeback

Cvetkovic's government will be sizable, with three deputy prime ministers and 24 ministries, reflecting weeks of horse-trading over posts in a coalition that brings together no less than 10 parties or coalitions.

The Socialists, a party founded by nationalist autocrat Slobodan Milosevic who fell in 2000, are making a big comeback, getting the post of first deputy prime minister, as well as key ministries such as infrastructure and energy.

President Boris Tadic, the leader of the Democrats, has defended his choice of ally by speaking of national reconciliation and the need to propel Serbia into the European mainstream.

The Socialists, once the Democrats' bitter rivals, spent the first weeks after an inconclusive May election negotiating with the country's nationalist bloc, much to the dismay of the West.

"To reconcile we all have to give up our own cherished positions in order to achieve a higher purpose," Tadic told the Vecernje Novosti daily. "This government is going to face tasks unlike any other in other in history."

He said practical priorities would include building up infrastructure, modernizing the health sector, and continuing education and economic reforms. "By the end of the mandate of this government Serbia should be close to being an EU member state," he added. "Whether this happens practically or not depends on the EU, but citizens should be able to feel the improvement in their lives regardless."

The EU has indicated it may reward Serbia with accelerated membership to win over moderate nationalists with the economic and practical benefits of accession and also bolster the new government's chances of lasting a full term.

Diplomats also hope that a pro-EU government in Belgrade would deliver remaining war crime suspects to the UN tribunal in The Hague, and be more amenable over Kosovo, whose Albanian majority seceded from Serbia in February.