World Bulletin / News Desk
The former spokesman of late war crimes convict Slobodan Milosevic took power in Serbia on Friday, telling Europe and the Balkans to forget the past and not fear the return of a political alliance that once led the country to war with NATO.
After 12 hours of heated debate, lawmakers in the 250-seat Serbian parliament voted 142 to 72 to endorse Socialist Party leader Ivica Dacic as prime minister at the helm of a coalition with nationalists.
The alliance condemns to the opposition benches the main reformers who ousted Milosevic in 2000, raising concern in the West that Serbia might veer from the path they took towards joining the European Union.
Dacic said EU membership was "a key goal", but that he would not be made to answer anymore for Serbia's dark past.
"If they say the word Balkan means 'blood and honey', there's been enough blood, it's time to feel the taste of honey too," the career politician told the assembly during a debate that ran late into the night.
"Serbia is offering the hand of reconciliation, to all. Let's not deal anymore with the past, let's deal with the future."
The West is closely scrutinising Dacic's ascent to the most powerful post in Serbia - in alliance with President Tomislav Nikolic's nationalists - for any sign that the country may drift from the EU path chosen by the seven states carved from old federal Yugoslavia.
Nikolic and the Socialists last shared power at the close of Milosevic's disastrous 13-year rule, when his forces expelled almost 1 million ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and NATO bombed in 1999 to wrest the province from him.
Dacic, 46, was Milosevic's spokesman, railing against the West. He now says Serbia's future is in the EU, but Western diplomats admit to doubts over whether he is willing and able to carry out the political and economic reforms it will take.
His government inherits an economy sliding into recession, a jobless rate of 25 percent and a shrinking, ageing population scraping by on an average net monthly wage of 340 euros ($420).
In a speech that cited economists John Maynard Keynes and Paul Krugman and American industrialist Henry Ford, Dacic dismissed calls for "belt-tightening" at the cost of pensions and pay, saying only economic growth would bring down Serbia's growing debt burden of 55 percent of output.
The West says Serbia's progress towards EU membership rests on it coming to terms with the loss of Kosovo.
Dacic said he was ready to continue EU-mediated talks with Kosovo aimed at "normalising life for all citizens". But Serbia would never recognise it as independent, he said.
The EU says it won't have to, at least explicitly, but it will have to loosen its grip on a Serb-populated slice of Kosovo's north, and stop obstructing the country's development.
That will determine how quickly the EU opens accession talks, after making Serbia a candidate for membership in March. Ex-Yugoslav republic Slovenia joined the EU in 2004. Croatia is next in 2013 and Montenegro began talks last month.
Dacic was interior minister in the last government with the reformist Democratic Party from 2008, until voters punished the Democrats for perceived elitism and an economic downturn.
The new coalition includes the technocrat United Regions bloc, whose leader Mladjan Dinkic becomes finance minister. Trying to settle markets, Dinkic says Serbia will revive a frozen loan deal with the International Monetary Fund.
Diplomat Ivan Mrkic, ambassador in Greek Cyprus under Milosevic at a time when, reformers say, millions of dollars were siphoned out of Serbia via Nicosia, became foreign minister. ($1 = 0.8130 euros)
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Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said Monday he hopes to clinch a reunification deal laying out a new security blueprint for the divided island during a crunch summit in Switzerland this week. Anastasiades will attend United Nations-backed talks at the Alpine Crans-Montana ski resort Wednesday with "complete determination and goodwill... to achieve a desired solution", he said in a statement. He said he hopes to "abolish the anachronistic system of guarantees and intervention rights", with a deal providing for the withdrawal of the Turkish army. The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece. Turkey maintains around 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus. The so-called guarantor powers of Turkey, Britain and Greece retain the right to intervene militarily on the island. Greek and Turkish Cypriots are at odds over a new security blueprint, but their leaders are under pressure to reach an elusive peace deal. "I am going to Switzerland to participate in the Cyprus conference, with the sole aim and intent of solving the Cyprus problem," Anastasiades said. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci is also set to attend the summit, which is expected to last at least 10 days. Greece, Turkey and Britain will send envoys along with an observer from the European Union. UN-led talks on the island hit a wall in late May after the sides failed to agree terms to advance toward a final summit. Unlocking the security question would allow Anastasiades and Akinci to make unprecedented concessions on core issues. But they have major differences on what a new security blueprint should look like. Anastasiades's internationally recognised government, backed by Athens, seeks an agreement to abolish intervention rights, with Turkish troops withdrawing from the island on a specific timeline. Turkish Cypriots and Ankara argue for some form of intervention rights and a reduced number of troops remaining in the north. Turkish Cypriots want the conference to focus on broader issues of power-sharing, property rights and territory for the creation of a new federation. Much of the progress to date has been based on strong personal rapport between Anastasiades and Akinci, leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. But that goodwill has appeared frayed in the build-up to their meeting in Switzerland. The Greek Cypriot presidential election next February has also complicated the landscape, as has the government's search for offshore oil and gas, which Ankara argues should be suspended until the negotiations have reached an outcome.
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