Milosevic Ally Gains Key Serbian Post

The Associated Press
Monday, May 7, 2007; 10:49 PM

BELGRADE, Serbia -- An ally of late President Slobodan Milosevic was elected Serbia's new parliament speaker early Tuesday, signaling a return of nationalists to power in the troubled Balkan country.

Tomislav Nikolic, a leader of the Serbian Radical Party, was elected to the highly influential position _ second in line behind the president _ thanks to the votes of the conservative party of the outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.

Nikolic received 142 votes out of 244 lawmakers present at a stormy marathon parliamentary session that lasted for nearly 15 hours, running into the early hours Tuesday. The pro-Western Democratic Party cadidate received 99 votes.

The election made Nikolic the first Serbian nationalist to get a top job since Milosevic was ousted from power in 2000 in a popular pro-Western revolt.

Milosevic _ a fierce nationalist with a vision of a "greater Serbia" created by uniting Serbia with ethnic Serb areas in Bosnia and Croatia _ took Serbia to four wars during his decade-long rule. He was ousted in a popular revolt in October 2000. Later, he was indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal on charges stemming from his role in the violence during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Milosevic died in prison last year before his trial was completed.

The choice of Nikolic reflects the recent rise in Serbian nationalism, amid prospects that the Kosovo province may gain independence as envisaged by a U.N. plan, and a failure by pro-democratic parties to form a coalition government after Jan. 21 elections.

At stake is whether the Balkan country would restart pre-entry talks with the European Union or return to the isolation policies of Milosevic.

"The future belongs to us, and you are history," Radical Party lawmaker Aleksandar Vucic told Parliament, referring to the Democratic Party, which had spearheaded Milosevic's ouster.

"Serbia today made a step back to the 90's, to the dark days of Milosevic's reign," Vladan Batic, a leader of a pro-Western opposition party, said.

Nikolic is a nationalist known for his anti-Western stands, including demands that Serbia shelve its EU aspirations and focus on maintaining close ties with Russia and China. He also has advocated military intervention in Kosovo if the breakaway ethnic Albanian-populated province becomes independent.

In Brussels, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said he was "troubled by the inability of the reform-oriented and pro-European parties ... to form a government so far."

"This is a litmus test of the rule of law in Serbia," Rehn added. "In spite of the worrying signals coming out of the Serbian Parliament today, I hope the reform-oriented parties will still give careful consideration to the wish of a majority of Serbia's electorate for a European future."

Brussels insists that Belgrade extradite war crimes suspect Gen. Ratko Mladic to the U.N. tribunal in the Netherlands before restarting pre-entrry talks with Serbia.

© 2007 The Associated Press