Serbian cabinet falls, early elections on May 11

Nationalist Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Saturday that his government had shattered on Kosovo policy and announced early elections for May 11. ( dpa )

"The government no more has a common policy regarding a most important issue and a government which has no common policy cannot function," Kostunica told a press conference.

"It is the end of the government."

Kostunica earlier said he lost confidence that his coalition partners were "honestly" trying to keep the breakaway province Kosovo Serbian.

The cabinet would meet Monday to dissolve the parliament and agree to hold early elections on May 11, together with municipal polls and elections for authorities in Vojvodina, Serbia's northern province, Kostunica told reporters.

Serbian government and parliament had been deadlocked since mid- January, when Kostunica clashed with his pro-European partners by insisting that Serbia should not continue negotiating membership of the European Union because of Western support for Kosovo.

Kosovo, with its majority Albanian population, declared independence from Serbia in February. Leading Western nations recognized the new state, and the EU deployed a mission to aid it.

Ministers from President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party and the reformist G17 outvoted Kostunica in his own cabinet on Thursday to block a resolution that would have effectively cemented the suspension of Serbia's EU talks.

Unlike Kostunica and his Democrartic Party of Serbia (DSS), DS and G17 want Serbia to continue moveing closer to EU despite Kosovo.

The draft, fielded by the ultra-nationalist opposition Serbian Radical Paerty (SRS), insisted that Serbia could negotiate membership only if EU recognized its sovereignty over Kosovo -an impossibility which would have cemented Serbia's turn away from EU. DS and G17 top officials already on Friday said elections were the best way out of the crisis.

The May elections would effectively be a referendum on Serbia's view of its European prospect.

Much of the momentum Tadic gained for the pro-European bloc by closely defeating an ultra-nationalist challenger in his re-election in early February may have been wasted meanwhile.

No popularity surveys have been completed since Kosovo declared independence. The latest polls, from before mid-February, indicated that elections were likely to produce more of the same.

The SRS were surging and DS and G17 were also gaining, pollsters said, but neither appeared to be strong enough for a majority, so Kostunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia may again emerge with the keys to the majority despite their receding popularity.

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