Defiant Serbia Conducts Vote In Minority Areas of Kosovo

BELGRADE -- Serbia underlined its rejection of Kosovo's Western-backed independence by conducting elections in the territory on Sunday, in defiance of the United Nations and the ethnic Albanian majority there.

UN officials and Western diplomats say the local polls are in line with Serbia's bid to strengthen its grip on Serb areas of Kosovo, particularly the Serb-dominated north centered on the flashpoint town of Mitrovica.

The country is divided and the two front-runners, the nationalist Radical Party and the pro-Western Democratic Party, will have to woo smaller parties to form a coalition. The West has made clear it hopes the Democrats will win.

"This election is a referendum on whether we let Kosovo go or fight for it, this is the only reason I came to vote," said a 50-year-old Belgrade man who declined to give his name.

He said he voted for the Radicals because they were the only genuine party in their commitment to keep fighting for Kosovo.

Another voter, Djordje Petrovic, said he was previously a Democratic Party voter but this time decided to vote for a smaller, more liberal pro-Western party.

"I feel a lot of disappointment over the broken promises," he said, "but maybe the expectations were too high."

The Radicals say that in the eight years since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic, acquiescence to the West and harsh market reforms have brought Serbs only humiliation and poverty.

They want to put EU membership on ice, look elsewhere for investment and trade, restore national pride and push Serbia's claim to their former Kosovo province which declared independence, with EU support, in February.

The Democrats say joining the EU is the only way to attract much-needed investment, create jobs and raise living standards that suffered in the isolation during the Milosevic era for the country's role in the Yugoslav wars.