Serbian Parties Jockey for Position

BELGRADE -- Serbia's outgoing prime minister Vojislav Kostunica, once valued as a champion of reform by the West, teamed up with ultranationalist Radicals on Tuesday, seeking to form the country's next government, his party said.

"A draft agreement on the nature and policy goals of Serbia's new national government was adopted at a meeting ... led by Vojislav Kostunica and [Radical leader] Tomislav Nikolic," spokesman Andreja Mladenovic told reporters.

It was the opening move in an elaborate coalition mating dance following Sunday's inconclusive general election, which asked Serbs to decide whether to shelve their bid for European Union membership to display defiance over Kosovo's independence.

Voters boosted the fortunes of pro-European Union parties, but not by enough to give them a ruling majority. The coalition that emerges in the coming days can decide Serbia's direction -- towards the EU or towards closer ties with Russia.

Kostunica turned against the EU when it backed the secession of Kosovo, the province whose 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority declared independence in February. He wants Serbia's EU-membership bid frozen until European powers change their minds.

Radical chief Nikolic said ahead of the election that he would offer Kostunica the top post in a new coalition. Serbia's pro-EU president, Boris Tadic, who broke with Kostunica in February, said he would never have him as prime minister again.

Outgoing Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic said the first task of the new government will be to ratify a pre-entry agreement Serbia recently signed with the European Union, The Associated Press reported.

Dinkic did not reveal whether his group -- which won the most votes in the Sunday election, but not enough to govern alone -- has managed to form a wider coalition that will hold the majority of seats in Serbia's 250-member parliament.