New Serbian parliament set to convene, but uncertainty continues

( dpa ) - The new Serbian parliament is scheduled to meet Wednesday, a month after the early snap poll that produced it, while uncertainty continues over who will govern the country.

Pro-European President Boris Tadic told his Democratic Party (DS) Saturday to embrace former foes, Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists (SPS), to "find a way to the future ... despite many harsh words spoken in the past."

"We need a compromise and an agreement for the future," Tadic told the DS policy-making body. The DS-led coalition won the most seats in the May 11 election, 102 out of the 250, but remained short of a majority.

For that it needs the SPS, which won 20 seats with two smaller parties in tow, along with the votes of at least four of the seven ethnic minority representatives in the incoming parliament.

The Socialists, however, initially opened coalition talks with the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radicals (SRS) and the outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), with 78 and 30 seats, respectively.

The three sides agreed a coalition on a local level in the capital Belgrade and several other municipalities, and could combine for a majority in parliament, but agreement remained elusive, despite pressure from Kostunica and SRS leader Tomislav Nikolic.

But Kostunica and Nikolic want Serbia to turn away from the European Union in protest at Western support for Kosovo's independence and to annul a pre-membership agreement Belgrade signed with Brussels, which is against the wishes of the Socialist leadership.

Tadic has also put Socialist leader Ivica Dacic under pressure, insisting that to enter a pro-EU government would be the last chance for the SPS to reform itself and break away from the dark past of the 1990s.

"I'm convinced the Socialist Party is ready for permanent reforms and the way leading to future," Tadic said.

Dacic and most SPS leaders want their party to enter the European centre-left mainstream, but much of the party membership opposes cooperation with Tadic's Democrats.

Milosevic repressed the opposition during his iron-handed, 12-year rule lasting until 2000.

After that, the DS leader and Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic delivered Milosevic for trial at a UN war crimes tribunal in 2001. Djindjic was killed by Milosevic-era policemen in 2003, and Milosevic died in detention three years later.

After the parliament is constituted starting on Wednesday, Serbian parties have three months to put a government in place, or face new elections.

Dacic said over the weekend it would be "clear within days" if a coalition with the Radicals and Kostunica's DSS was possible.

Referring to Tadic's conciliatory remarks, Dacic said "statements such as these are a step forward in the normalization of relations of DS and SPS."

Serbian observers, however, appear convinced that Dacic is already determined to join forces with Tadic and charge a huge price for his support. He may emerge as the country's next premier despite holding only a sixth of the seats in parliament.

The final party that made it to the assembly, the fervently pro- Western and anti-Milosevic Liberal Democratic Party, claimed 13 seats, but has a close-to-zero coalition potential owing to its refusal to compromise with political opponents.

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