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Serbs begin talks on forming new government

Serbs begin talks on forming new government

Serbia's president began consultations Monday on the formation of a new government, a process complicated by a U.N. envoy's presentation of a plan for the breakaway province of Kosovo.
President Boris Tadic met with officials from the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, which won the most votes in the Jan. 21 parliamentary elections. Later Monday, he is to hold talks with officials of his own pro-Western Democratic Party, which emerged the strongest within a pro-democracy bloc.
A compromise among Serbia's deeply divided political groups could take weeks or months.
U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari plans to visit Belgrade Friday to formally present his proposal for resolving Kosovo's future status to Serb leaders.
Serbia's caretaker prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, who says any discussions on Kosovo must wait until a new government is in place, is planning to boycott the meetings with the envoy.
A spokesman from Ahtisaari's office, however, said the envoy would make his visit to Belgrade on Friday as scheduled. Ahtisaari will also visit Kosovo's provincial capital, Pristina, to brief ethnic Albanian leaders on the plan.
"We never said we were going to wait for a new government," his spokesman, Remi Dourlot, said.
Kostunica is refusing to meet Ahtisaari, saying he has no mandate to discuss Kosovo's future status until a new government is in place because his outgoing Cabinet can only deal with "technical" issues of running the country.
Kostunica and other government officials have accused Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, of being biased toward Kosovo Albanians, who are seeking outright independence, a quest that triggered the 1998-99 war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian separatists.
The report's release threatens to complicate the talks on forming a governing coalition with ultranationalist Radicals rejecting any compromise over Kosovo and even threatening to go to war over the breakaway province.
"We care about Kosovo in Serbia and nothing else," said a Radicals' leader, Aleksandar Vucic, before other party officials entered government talks with Tadic.
Serbia's moderate political parties, including Tadic's Democrats and Kostunica's conservatives, are already at odds over who should fill key Cabinet slots. Kostunica insists on retaining the premiership, while the Democrats want their candidate to get the influential post.
The two parties' top figures are also split over how to handle Athisaari's visit. Tadic has said he will meet with the envoy, and his Democrats are calling on Kostunica to abandon his announced boycott of the meetings.
Ahtisaari unveiled his plan to Western and Russian diplomats in Austria last week.
The plan, which was not made public, is widely expected to lead to a conditional, internationally supervised independence for Kosovo, which has been an international protectorate under United Nations administration since the end of the war.
Serbs, who consider Kosovo to be the heartland of their nation and religion, oppose the idea of independence, offering Kosovo only broad autonomy within Serbia's borders.
Last year, Ahtisaari mediated largely inconclusive talks between the two sides, then drafted his own proposal. He already had postponed its presentation until after the Serbian elections, but said he would not wait until the political parties in Belgrade forge a new government.
The thorny issue of Kosovo figured prominently in the Jan. 21 vote, partly enabling the Radical Party to win the highest number of votes, but without an outright majority to govern alone.
If the parties do not agree within the next three months new elections will have to be held later this year.


Updated : 2021-04-16 19:58 GMT+08:00