Serbian Parties Choose Speaker

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- Serbia's fractured pro-democracy parties elected a new parliamentary speaker Wednesday after reaching for support from former President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party, which now appears likely to play a key role in forming a new government.

Dragan Marsicanin of the Democratic Party of Serbia, led by the moderate nationalist Vojislav Kostunica, gained the post in a 128-81 vote in the 250-seat parliament. Marsicanin was backed by his own party, two pro-democratic parties and Milosevic's group.

The Socialists' top official, Ivica Dacic, had said the backing of Marsicanin -- and a likely new government to be formed in the coming days in the wake of the Dec. 28 general elections -- hinged on his party's demand that no more Serb suspects be extradited to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands, Beta news agency reported.

The elections produced no clear winner. Four pro-democracy groups in past weeks tried -- but failed -- to form a coalition without help from the hard-liners. Three of the parties then turned to the Socialists for support despite their past opposition to Milosevic and his autocratic regime.

"We have a list of about 10 principles that must be respected," including that Serbia hands over no more suspects indicted by the UN tribunal, Dacic was quoted by Beta as saying.

After losing power in 2000 to pro-democracy groups, Milosevic was extradited to the UN court to answer for his role in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. Scores of his associates, including Socialist Party leaders, were also handed over or surrendered voluntarily.

Despite his imprisonment in the Netherlands where he is facing 66 counts of war crimes, Milosevic retains huge influence over the Socialists. The party has made a comeback by garnering 22 seats in the parliament, and by capitalizing on the discord among the pro-democracy groups.

After the vote, Dacic said his Socialists gave their backing in order to break months of political deadlock in the troubled Balkan republic. "In order to help our institutions," he said, and "to help Serbia come out of this agony."

Serbia has been without a president for a year after three attempts to elect a president have failed due to low voter turnout. Adding to the instability, feuds among pro-democracy groups led to the dissolution of the previous parliament and the call for the early, December elections.

Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia won 53 seats in the assembly and has spearheaded the efforts to overcome the political impasse.

The long-delayed genocide trial of Momcilo Krajisnik, the second-most powerful Serb politician in wartime Bosnia, opened Tuesday in The Hague. Krajisnik was described by prosecutors as helping craft the policy of ethnic cleansing though he was "fully aware of the horrific consequences."

Krajisnik was head of Parliament and the right-hand man of Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic during the 1991-1995 Bosnian war, which left an estimated 200,000 people dead.