Serbia refuses U.S., UK monitors for president vote

A033411013.jpgBELGRADE – Serbia’s election commission has turned down a request by the British and United States embassies to allow some of their staff to monitor the presidential election next weekend, officials said on Friday.

A mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Europe’s main democracy and rights watchdog, and a monitoring team from the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) were approved.

The commission, comprising members from all parliamentary parties, failed to reach the required majority to approve the British and U.S. monitors because of opposition from the party of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, the officials said.

Kostunica has slammed the two countries for their support to the independence demands of the breakaway Kosovo province.

“In previous occasions, approval of the monitors was a routine procedure,” said commission spokeswoman Tanja Aksic.

The pro-Western party of current President Boris Tadic voted to allow the monitors along with smaller liberal parties. The ultranationalist Radical Party abstained.

The Radicals, whose candidate Tomislav Nikolic is expected to lead in the first round on Jan 20. and be a strong contender in the run-off two weeks later, said “the U.S. and Britain want to destroy us and take away our territory,” media reported.

Officials in the British and U.S. embassies said they were baffled by the decision and had not yet decided if they would lodge a protest.

Elections in Serbia were not fully transparent under the rule of strongman Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, but have been largely declared fair since his fall in 2000.

The commission’s decision highlights Kostunica’s defiance towards the West over Kosovo, whose Albanian majority is set to declare independence this spring with Western backing.

Serbia lost control of the province in 1999, when NATO expelled Serbian forces accused of mass killings of civilians while battling a guerilla insurgency.

Kostunica has vowed to stop the creation of what he calls “a puppet state”, and has said Serbia would turn its back to the European Union if the bloc goes ahead with its plans to recognize and support the fledgling state.

Tadic’s party, Kostunica’s allies in a fractious government, are more conciliatory and stress Serbia will not be able to defend its interests if it is an isolated pariah.

They said the presence of “as many foreign and local monitors as possible” was necessary “in order to have fully democratic and legitimate elections.”

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