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New Serbian president in pro-European pledge

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
updated 4:57 AM EDT, Mon May 21, 2012
New Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic (C-R) addresses supporters at his party's headquarters in Belgrade on May 20.
New Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic (C-R) addresses supporters at his party's headquarters in Belgrade on May 20.
  • Tomislav Nikolic denies incumbent Boris Tadic a third term as president
  • Under Tadic, Serbia was given EU candidacy status in March
  • Nikolic says he will keep Serbia on its pro-European course
  • Outgoing Democrat-Socialist coalition could potentially remain in government

(CNN) -- Nationalist Tomislav Nikolic vowed to keep Serbia on a pro-European course as he was elected as the country's new president.

The 60-year old defeated incumbent Boris Tadic in Sunday's election, denying him a third term in office.

Nikolic led with 50.21% of the votes, compared to 46.77% for Tadic, according to preliminary results from the country's electoral commission.

Serbia "will not stray from the European path," he told supporters in his victory speech, according to Serbia's B92 network.

"Serbia must develop its economy. The things I pointed out during the campaign must be improved. We have to free ourselves of poverty. We must free ourselves of the low birth rates, bribery, corruption and have friends all over the world."

Rival Tadic congratulated Nikolic on "a fair and well-earned victory," but warned it would be a "tragic mistake" if Serbia abandoned its move towards membership of the European Union.

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Under Tadic, Serbia was given EU candidacy status in March but no date has been set for membership talks.

During this time, the Democratic Party leader agreed to hold talks aimed at improving relations with Kosovo, and handed over key war crimes suspects, including Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, to the United Nations tribunal. Both moves were seen as critical to Belgrade's EU ambitions.

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Nikolic had been the deputy leader of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), but broke away in 2008 to form the Serbian Progressive Party after ditching his anti-EU stance.

"We want to join the EU. It has projects, jobs and investments for us," he once told an election rally, according to Agence France-Presse.

Nikolic will now turn his attention to negotiations with rival parties to form a coalition government in the economically depressed country, with the Socialist party under Ivica Dacic seen as kingmakers in this process.

The Socialists and Democrats, partners in the outgoing government, reached an agreement to form a pro-European alliance after the May 6 parliamentary elections. Dacic told reporters Sunday that the presidential election result would not change that agreement.

In theory, this could see the Democrats retain power in a repeat governing coalition with the Socialists. But Nikolic has the power to give the mandate to form a government to the largest party, which is his own.

One man who won't be part of this process is Tadic. The outgoing president has ruled himself out as prime minister if the Democrats remain in office.

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