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Page last updated at 22:45 GMT, Monday, 7 July 2008 23:45 UK

New Serbian cabinet focuses on EU

Mirko Cvetkovic (third left) and his ministers are sworn in Belgrade on 7 July 2007
Mr Cvetkovic (third left) also vowed to improve Serbia's economy

Serbia's parliament has approved a new government made up of a pro-EU bloc and its former rivals, the Socialists.

In a 127-27 vote in Belgrade, lawmakers backed the cabinet led by Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic.

Mr Cvetkovic promised to take Serbia into the EU, but said Belgrade would never recognise Kosovo's independence.

Serbia's coalition government fell in March after disagreeing on whether to suspend EU ties, following Kosovo's recognition of by most EU members.

President Boris Tadic's pro-EU alliance won May's snap general elections, but fell short of majority in the 250-strong parliament.

The polls were viewed as a referendum on whether the former Yugoslav republic should continue on its path towards membership of the 27-member EU.

'Main objective'

After a day-long debate, 127 of 164 lawmakers present backed Mr Cvetkovic's cabinet. Twenty seven deputies were against, while 10 MPs did not vote.

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The new government pairs the alliance For a European Serbia (ZEC) led by President Tadic's Democratic Party (DS) with a bloc of parties led by the Socialist Party (SPS) of late President Slobodan Milosevic.

"The government's main objective is for Serbia to gain EU candidate country status by the end of this year or by the beginning of next year," Mr Cvetkovic said before the vote.

He promised to speed up "economic and other reforms envisaged by the SAA (Stabilisation and Association Agreement).

"Our plan is that at the end of this government's mandate Serbia will be ready to get into the EU," he added.

But Mr Cvetkovic and his cabinet ministers said they were "devoted to preserving Kosovo within Serbia", despite the declaration of independence by the majority ethnic Albanian territory in February.

"There is a full consent among the coalition members that the new government will never recognise the independence of Kosovo," Mr Cvetkovic said.

'Reinvented' party

The formation of the new coalition government became possible after the Socialists in June agreed to join their former bitter pro-EU rivals, ending weeks of wrangling.

The Radical Party and the Democratic Party of Serbia, who came second and third in the May elections, are against EU membership until the bloc stops backing Kosovo's independence.

They had been trying to lure the Socialists into joining their coalition by focussing on their common stance on issues such as Kosovo.

But the Socialist Party, which is responsible for Serbia's international isolation under President Milosevic, has reinvented itself as an advocate of social justice and attracts many young, often poor or unemployed voters, correspondents say.


SEE ALSO
Serbs fear more party wrangling
12 May 08 |  Europe
Serbian reformers claim victory
12 May 08 |  Europe
Q&A: Serbian election
12 May 08 |  Europe
Country profile: Serbia
30 Apr 08 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Serbia
30 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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