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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reformers and Nationalists Duke It Out at Serbian Polls

BELGRADE -- Serbs went to the polls Sunday in a national election expected to be a tight race between ultranationalists and pro-Western reformers.

The country is still recovering from a decade of sanctions and isolation under the late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic, who was ousted in 2000. The West says Serbia must now decide whether it wants to reclaim its place in Europe or stay locked in the past.

Opinion polls show the race is too close to call, with the ultra-nationalist Radical Party tied at about 30 percent with the Democrats -- the party favored by the West.

Neither would be strong enough to form a government alone. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia is in third place and seen as the kingmaker, equally likely to support either of its rivals in forming a government. "Serbia must ... continue on the stable and secure road it has taken so far, because 'the safe road is the quickest,'" Kostunica said after casting his vote, repeating his campaign slogan that asked voters to give his government a second term.

The new government faces having to implement more painful economic changes and deal with two major international issues: the future of the breakaway Kosovo province and the handover of top war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic.

The United Nations is expected to rule this year on the fate of Kosovo. The West favors granting independence to its majority ethnic Albanians as they have demanded since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of killing civilians while fighting an insurgency.