Serbia's Nikolic takes office, rival bids for govt

Thu May 31, 2012 1:43pm GMT

By Matt Robinson

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Rightist Tomislav Nikolic took office as president of Serbia on Thursday as liberal rival Boris Tadic manoeuvred to retain power as prime minister in a new government still dedicated to achieving entry into the European Union.

A former ally of late nationalist strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Nikolic began his five-year term by reading the oath of office in parliament, convened for the first time since parliamentary and presidential elections in May.

He reiterated his support for the former Yugoslav republic's bid to join the European Union and his opposition to the independence of its former province of Kosovo - a twin-track policy observers say will prove impossible.

"I want a house with two doors, to the East and to the West," Nikolic, 60, a former cemetery manager nicknamed "Gravedigger", said in a speech to lawmakers and dignitaries.

"I want a Serbia that will be an equal member of the European Union, and which will never give up its sovereignty, territorial integrity or Kosovo."

Nikolic's shock win over Tadic, a two-term president, 10 days ago sent a chill through a region that still recalls his last spell in government - as deputy prime minister in a coalition with Milosevic when NATO bombed Serbia to drive its forces out of Kosovo during a 1998-99 war.

But the president in contemporary Serbia has limited powers, and Tadic has emerged as frontrunner for the more powerful post of prime minister likely in charge of a renewed coalition that will push to start EU accession talks next year.

Nikolic has tried to reinvent himself as a pro-European conservative since splitting in 2008 from his firebrand ultranationalist mentor Vojislav Seselj, who is standing trial for war crimes in The Hague.   Continued...

Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.