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Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Tuesday, 9 September 2008 12:16 UK

Serbian MPs endorse key EU deal

Serbian President Boris Tadic, with Serbian and EU flags
Serbian President Boris Tadic is pushing for EU membership

Serbia's parliament has ratified a key EU document, in a major step on the path to joining the bloc.

The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) was backed by 139 deputies, with 26 voting against.

However, it still has to be backed by all 27 EU countries, some of whom are still not fully satisfied with Serbia's co-operation on war crimes issues.

Meanwhile, MPs also backed a deal with Moscow that would give Russia's Gazprom control over Serbia's state oil firm.

Radicals rift

The EU has been a divisive issue in Serbia, partly causing the collapse of the last government earlier this year.

In subsequent elections, however, pro-EU parties were voted in with a substantial majority.

The capture in July of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was considered a major boost for Serbia's EU bid, though Brussels says his ally General Ratko Mladic must also be handed over before it can join.

The EU issue has also caused a split in the opposition Serbian Radical Party (SRS), leading to the resignation of its leader Tomislav Nikolic.

Last week, in a historic U-turn, he committed the nationalist party to backing the SAA.

But that provoked a backlash by many members, forcing him to step down and form his own breakaway faction, while hardliner Dragan Todorovic took charge of the main SRS parliamentary group.

Hardline nationalists have been angered by some EU states' support for Kosovo's independence, as well as its insistence on the pursuit of Serbian war crimes suspects.

In the event, both the main SRS and the breakaway group boycotted the EU vote on Tuesday, but the government coalition had enough votes to win.

Links with Moscow

The energy deal agreed overwhelmingly in parliament on the same day has been described as historic.

It gives Russian gas export giant Gazprom a 51% stake in NIS, Serbia's state-owned oil monopoly.

Gazprom has pledged to invest 500m euros (400m) in modernising the company, on top of the 400m euros it is paying for it.

Serbia will benefit by being linked to Gazprom's South Stream gas pipeline project to carry Russian gas to Europe, improving Serbia's access to energy supplies, and potentially earning it fees if the gas is carried to other Balkan countries.

Critics, however, say Belgrade has put control of a key industry in the hands of a foreign power at a knockdown price.


FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
B92 Parliament ratifies SAA, Russian energy deal - 11 hrs ago
Radio Free Europe Serbian Parliament Embraces EU With Early Pact - 22 hrs ago
Tampa Bay Online Serbia ratifies EU, Russia deals - 23 hrs ago
Morning Call Serbian lawmakers ratify pre-entry agreement with EU, gas and oil deal with Russia - 24 hrs ago


SEE ALSO
Serb opposition leader resigns
07 Sep 08 |  Europe
EU enlargement: The next seven
04 Aug 08 |  Europe
EU offers closer ties to Serbia
04 Feb 08 |  Europe
Country profile: Serbia
30 Jul 08 |  Country profiles
Profile: Boris Tadic
04 Feb 08 |  Europe

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