Serbia Democrats elect Belgrade mayor as new party leader

BELGRADE Sun Nov 25, 2012 3:03pm EST

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BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia's pro-Western Democratic Party elected mayor of Belgrade Dragan Djilas as its new leader on Sunday who pledged to reform the party following an election defeat in May.

Addressing a party congress, 45-year-old Djilas said the Democrats had to take their share of responsibility for unemployment, now over 25 percent, double-digit inflation and a public debt seen at 60 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of this year.

"The fact is that we are responsible ... as Serbia is facing hardships, many are unemployed, living standards are on the decline, inflation ... is on the rise," Djilas said

Djilas, a former journalist and businessman, won an overwhelming majority of votes from 3,200 delegates.

Boris Tadic stepped down a head of the party this month after losing the presidency in May, but will retain a ceremonial position of a honorary president of the party.

During his eight-year leadership of the party, Tadic helped Serbia improve relations with Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, its former foes from the wars of the 1990s and led the country to its European Union candidacy. But he failed to stem rampant corruption, nepotism, red tape and economic downturn.

After a drubbing in the May elections, the Democratic Party was forced into opposition by a coalition of the nationalist Serbian Progressive Party, the Socialist Party of Serbia previously led by late strong man Slobodan Milosevic, and the pro-business United Regions.

Tadic also narrowly lost presidential elections to Tomislav Nikolic, a nationalist and the former head of the Progressive Party.

Djilas pledged to lead the party towards a victory in the next general elections slated for 2016, but stressed the need for reforms within the party.

In recent weeks, the senior party members Oliver Dulic, former minister for environment and Sasa Dragin, former minister for agriculture, have been separately charged by prosecutors for fraud and abuse of office.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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