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Serbian President Nikolic Inaugurated Amid Boycott

New Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic
New Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic has formally taken office in a ceremony boycotted by several of the Balkan country's neighbors.

Upon his inauguration on June 11 promised to "build friendships" and work to keep his country on track toward European Union membership.

Nonetheless, most regional leaders boycotted his inauguration after controversial comments he made about the region's recent past.

The leaders of Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Macedonia -- the Balkan states that were involved in the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s -- shunned the ceremony in Belgrade after Nikolic denied that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre was genocide.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, who attended the inauguration, urged Serbia to remain on the path to EU membership.

Nikolic, a former hard-line nationalist, won a surprise victory in a May 20 runoff over Boris Tadic, Serbia's two-time pro-EU president.

Nikolic said at least twice in recent weeks that the killing of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica in 1995 during the Bosnia war was not genocide, despite rulings by international tribunals to the contrary.

He also said that Vukovar, a Croatian town destroyed by Serb forces during Croatia's war of independence in the 1990s, is actually a Serbian city.

Nikolic's statements prompted Croatian President Ivo Josipovic and Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim chairman of Bosnia's collective presidency, to openly boycott his inauguration.

The Slovenian and Macedonian presidents simply said they would not come.

'Rewriting' History

Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic was the only head of state from the seven countries which emerged from the disintegration of Yugoslavia to attend.

Nikolic said at the inauguration that he "will not allow differing views of past events to threaten the future that we share."

Following Nikolic's recent comments, the EU warned Belgrade against "rewriting" history.

Enlargement Commissioner Fuele, after meeting Nikolic earlier June 11, said the EU wants "clarity, transparency and predictability" from Serbia.

Fuele also maintained that relations with Kosovo must improve before Belgrade can start accession talks.

"One key priority is standing between Serbia and accession negotiations," he said. "That key priority [is a] visible and sustainable improvement in relations with Kosovo."

Nikolic says he wants Serbia to join the EU but has also indicated that Belgrade would never give up its claim on Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008.

Nikolic is scheduled to visit EU headquarters in Brussels on June 14.

With reporting by dpa, AFP, RTS TV, and B92
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