Weeks of Serbian government talks near collapse
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Talks on forming a pro-reform coalition government in Serbia looked on the verge of collapse on Tuesday, raising the prospect of nationalists taking power in the country which is a candidate for European Union membership.
Seven weeks after an inconclusive parliamentary election, the Democratic Party issued a statement late on Tuesday demanding that the Socialist-led bloc say whether its initial agreement to form a government still stands.
The bloc, led by the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) of the late Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who died during his trial at the Hague on war crimes charges, came a strong third in the May 6 election.
The bloc has been in negotiations ever since to revive the outgoing coalition government with the second-placed Democrats.
The deal was thrown into doubt by the shock election of nationalist Tomislav Nikolic as president on May 20, defeating Democratic Party leader and former Serbian president Boris Tadic.
Nikolic's Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which won the parliamentary election but could not get a coalition partner, has since been trying to woo the Socialists into an alliance.
"The Socialists backed a coalition government led by Boris Tadic and the public must now know whether such a deal is still on," the Democratic Party said in a statement late on Tuesday.
It called on the Socialists to state "what is the obstacle to the formation of the government".
A member of the SPS-led bloc said a coalition offer from Nikolic's party was under consideration.
A government of the Socialists and Nikolic's Progressives would resurrect an alliance last in power when Milosevic was toppled in 2000 after a decade of war and isolation.
The election of Nikolic, a former leader of the ultranationalist Radical Party, rattled a region still coming to terms with the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia, in which more than 125,000 people died.
Nikolic says he has given up the 'Greater Serbia' dream that inspired much of the carnage and shares the goal of European Union membership for Serbia.
But the West is unsure of his commitment to the tough reforms required of Serbia or to continuing the process of reconciliation in the region.
Diplomats say the European Union, which made Serbia an official candidate for membership in March, had been counting on Tadic maneuvering with the Socialists to take the post of prime minister, marginalizing Nikolic as president and keeping the country on a pro-reform path.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by)
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