(dpa) - The Serbian government was deadlocked and appeared on the verge of collapse Wednesday over a deal that would bring it closer to membership of European Union.
Brussels had offered Belgrade a special, close-cooperation deal to help Serbia shorten its cumbersome trip toward membership. The treaty was on for signing Thursday.
The pro-European bloc in the government coalition, the freshly re-elected President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party (DS) and the small G17 Plus, wanted to authorize the EU agreement.
But conservative Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, outvoted in his own cabinet, said Tuesday that the offer was to trick Serbia into accepting the departure of Kosovo.
He called on parliament, where he commands the majority in a pact with the opposition, to debate the EU's offer and block it.
As Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), the opposition of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party and Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists wants to block Serbia's closer ties with EU over its support of Kosovo's independence.
In a bid to stave off the vote in parliament, DS has delayed the parliament session until next week, but Kostunica responded by refusing to hold a cabinet meeting in which he would be outvoted and the EU deal authorized.
The crisis is the gravest yet of the political marriage that was unhappy from the start in the middle of 2007.
A collapse of the coalition could trigger early elections or lead to a new alliance of Kostunica with the parties that were ousted from power in riots against Milosevic in October 2007, after a series of bloody and lost wars during the 1990s.