INTERNATIONAL NEWS
May 20, 2012 12:00:00 AM
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Voters in Serbia go to the polls Sunday to elect a new president in a run-off with the incumbent Boris Tadic set for a victory over nationalist challenger Tomislav Nikolic.

Surveys just ahead of the election show Tadic, 54, leading with 58 percent, while Nikolic had 42 percent.

Tadic, who brought a once politically and economically isolated Serbia to the doorstep of the European Union, is seeking his third and final five-year mandate which he said would be dedicated to his country's European integration and economic development.

He came just ahead of Nikolic in the May 6 first round of presidential elections, in which the nationalist has accused his rival of "vote fraud".

The claims were dismissed both by Serbia's prosecutor and electoral officials but they have cast a shadow over the polls.

Nikolic, a one-time ally of the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, is a recent convert to the European cause. He has vowed to steer a pro-EU course but also warned he would not let Serbia join the bloc at any cost.

The 60-year-old opposition leader campaigned on populist promises, like a tax hike for the rich to be used to increase pensions and welfare payments.

Tadic pulled ahead from Nikolic after he won an important backing from the Socialists, the third biggest party in the Serbian parliament after legislative polls held two weeks ago.

The new president will have to introduce painful reforms in order to restore economic stability of the country where 24 percent of 7.5 million inhabitants are unemployed, one of the highest jobless rate in Europe.

He is also expected to boost further talks between Belgrade and Pristina aimed at improving relations between Serbia and its breakaway province Kosovo -- a key condition for the country's EU integration.

More than 6.7 million eligible voters will cast their ballot at more than 8,500 polling stations from 7:00 am (0500 GMT) until 8:00 pm.

AFP

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