Pro-Western incumbent wins Serbian presidential election

>BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Serbia’s pro-Western president narrowly defeated an ally of late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic in a closely contested election Sunday only days before an expected declaration of independence by the breakaway Kosovo province.

President Boris Tadic won 51 percent of the vote, while Tomislav Nikolic, who ruled with Milosevic during the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s, had 47 percent, according to the state electoral commission.

“Serbia has shown its great democratic potential,” Tadic said in his victory speech, praising Nikolic for “the number of votes he has won.”

Nikolic congratulated Tadic but added, “I will remain to be his tough opposition.”

Tadic’s supporters celebrated in downtown Belgrade, waving Serbian, EU and Democratic Party flags and honking car horns.

The outcome indicated that a majority of Serbians want the country to stay on its path of pro-Western reform and closer ties with the European Union, instead of heading back to the nationalism and isolation that characterized the Milosevic era.

Nikolic’s defeat will also likely alleviate fears in the West that Serbia would react violently to the expected declaration of independence later this month by the Kosovo province, dominated by pro-independence ethnic Albanians.

Both Tadic and Nikolic oppose Kosovo’s independence, but Tadic has ruled out the use of force and will likely seek to preserve close ties with the EU and the United States even if they recognize Kosovo statehood.

The province has been run by the United Nations and NATO since the 1998-99 war, when NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days to stop his brutal crackdown against Kosovo separatists.

Kosovo’s Albanian leaders said they would declare independence days after the Serbian runoff, no matter who wins, and they expect the U.S. and most EU countries to follow up with quick recognition.