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Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Tuesday, 29 July 2008 12:39 UK

EU puts off Serbia bid decision

Supporters of Radovan Karadzic hold up posters of him during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia (28 July 2008)
Small demonstrations have been held in Belgrade since Mr Karadzic's arrest

EU ambassadors have put off a decision on establishing closer ties with Serbia until the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is extradited.

Mr Karadzic is expected to be transferred imminently to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, following his arrest a week ago.

Serbia's pro-EU leaders hope the arrest will boost its case for EU membership.

Pro-Karadzic Serbian nationalists have been gathering in Belgrade to take part in a mass rally later on Tuesday.

Serbian judges say they have still not received an appeal from Mr Karadzic's lawyers against his arrest.

The lawyer for the former Bosnian Serb leader said he sent the appeal documents by post from a remote location in Serbia before the Friday deadline to delay the process.

The appeal is expected to be swiftly rejected and Mr Karadzic sent to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague soon afterwards.

Ending isolation

Although they welcomed Mr Karadzic's arrest, the EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels on Tuesday stopped short of offering Serbia any immediate prospect of joining the EU.

Instead they decided to defer a decision on unfreezing trade benefits until they see Mr Karadzic transferred to The Hague tribunal.

Diplomats say they also want UN war crimes prosecutor Serge Brammertz to report on whether Serbia is fully co-operating with the tribunal.

Serbia's President Boris Tadic is keenly in favour of joining the European Union.

But some existing members of the bloc, including the Netherlands, have been reluctant to countenance the idea, claiming Serbia has not dealt with the legacy of the war in the Balkans, the BBC's Duncan Bartlett in Brussels reports.

Serbia is aiming first for greater trade with the EU, and then an opportunity to discuss in detail the kind of economic and political reforms it would need to join the club, our correspondent adds.

Serbia did not attend Tuesday's meeting in Brussels, which only included ambassadors from existing member states.

The country intends to make a formal application to join the union by the end of the year.

Mass rally

In Serbia, Karadzic supporters are being bussed in from across the country and from Serb parts of Bosnia for the Belgrade rally later on Tuesday.

The BBC's Helen Fawkes, in Belgrade, says that these people Radovan Karadzic is still a war hero, and there are fears the rally could lead to violence.

"This rally will be a symbol of resistance, a symbol of the strength of those who love freedom more than anything," said Aleksandar Vucic of the nationalist Radical Party, one of the strongest parties in Serbia.

Small demonstrations have been held daily in the capital since the arrest of Mr Karadzic. Protesters have clashed with police and attacked journalists.

Organisers of Tuesday's rally have promised to ensure that the event is peaceful and have said that each journalist will be given two bodyguards.

Mr Karadzic faces 11 charges, including genocide and crimes against humanity during the war in Bosnia in the 1990s.

He was arrested in Belgrade last week after nearly 13 years as a fugitive.


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