Friday, September 29, 2006

Serb lynchpin party clams up on threat to quit

BELGRADE, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Serbia's liberal G17 Plus party kept the country guessing on Friday over its vow to quit the coalition of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and bring down his government, triggering a snap election.

Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic, leader of the party, refused to say if he and three other ministers will carry out their threat to resign on Oct. 1 if European Union membership talks which the EU suspended in May are not resumed. "I will hold a news conference on October 1 and everything will be clear then. The decision by the G17 Plus executive is known and we keep our word. This is all I can say about it," Dinkic told reporters in the Serbian parliament.

Asked by Beta news agency if the G17 Plus deputies will take part in a special session of parliament to vote in a new Serbian constitution, Dinkic said "there are no obstacles" to that.

Dinkic has warned repeatedly that G17 Plus will carry out its threat to walk out on Kostunica by Oct. 1 unless Belgrade gives the EU good grounds for unfreezing the talks.

That move depends on Serbia convincing the Hague tribunal it is doing its utmost to track down and arrest war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic.

But Hague chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn scotched any hope of an early resumption of the talks on Friday. Del Ponte said Belgrade was still "far away from full cooperation" and Rehn added "there is no sign of progress from the Serbian side".


Del Ponte was due to visit Serbia next week.

Former G17 Plus leader Miroljub Labus resigned as deputy prime minister in May, saying Kostunica's failure to arrest Mladic was harming Serbia's efforts to join the EU.

G17 Plus said on Thursday its four ministers would tender their resignations formally on Friday to Kostunica.

Seemingly clearing the decks for a snap election, the government worked late into the night to agree the text of the new constitution, replacing the defunct Milosevic-era text, and parliament adopted a revised 2006 budget for the country. Media reports say the constitution could be adopted by referendum at the end of October or early November, with a snap national election possible in mid to late December.

An early election in Serbia could coincide with a U.N. Security Council decision on the fate of its Kosovo province, run by the United Nations and policed by NATO since Serb forces were driven out by NATO bombing in 1999.

A decision to give Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority the independence they demand, over Belgrade's strongest objections, would be taken as a slap in the face by Serbs and could benefit the ultranationalist Radicals, the country's strongest single party.

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