Sat Mar 8, 2008 10:58am 1
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica resigned on Saturday, announcing the end of a governing coalition too divided over Kosovo to carry on.
"This is the end of the government," Kostunica told a news conference. "I have called a government session on March 10 to discuss dissolution of parliament."
If adopted, Serbia would hold an early parliamentary election in May to decide a fundamental question -- can it continue seeking membership of the European Union now that the EU has recognized the independence of the southern province?
Dissolution was the best course for "a government that is not working", Kostunica said. The election would most likely take place on May 11, the date set for local elections in Serbia.
Kostunica gave no clue to whether his small nationalist party would now seek an alliance with the hardline nationalist Radical Party -- Serbia's biggest -- and the Socialists of the late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic.
Such a coalition would be likely to adopt an unyielding position on Kosovo, possibly shutting down Serbia's bid for EU membership in favor of closer ties with Russia, which has backed Kostunica's stance on Kosovo.
Kostunica has indirectly accused his pro-Western coalition partners of giving up defending Serbia's claim to Kosovo in favor of better ties with the West, which backs Kosovo's secession.
He said part of the coalition wanted Serbia to be a member of the European Union only if the independence of Kosovo, which two-thirds of EU members have recognized, is revoked, while a majority did not want EU membership linked to Kosovo.
His decision to end the government puts him in direct conflict with Serbia's pro-Western president, Boris Tadic, and his party, who formed the backbone of the coalition which came to power 10 months ago.
Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) says it will support a Serbian Radical Party (SRS) resolution in parliament, calling on the European Union to "clearly and unambiguously" confirm Serbia's territorial integrity, as a condition for further European integration.
Tadic's Democratic Party and its liberal G17 Plus partner opposed the resolution in cabinet earlier this week and defeated it two-to-one.
The pro-EU parties say the resolution will not bring back Kosovo -- whose Albanian majority declared independence on February 17 with Western backing -- but put a halt to Serbia's bid to join the European Union, which is their key policy aim.
(additional reporting by Ivana Sekularac, Ljilja Cvekic, Ellie Tzortzi; Edited by Elizabeth Piper)
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