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news 17 May 12

Serbia's Presidential Hopefuls Duel on TV

Tomislav Nikolic and Boris Tadic traded barbs on the economy, the EU and Serbia's overall development - but both men agreed they would never recognise Kosovo's independence.

Bojana Barlovac
BIRN
Belgrade

Serbia's two presidential candidates battled for the hearts and minds of voters in a TV debate on the public broadcaster RTS on Wednesday ahead of the second round of the election on May 20.

Tomislav Nikolic of the Progressives said that Serbs should no longer be the "hostages" of his rival, Boris Tadic, candidate of the ruling Democrats.

"Punish Tadic for his false promises, because you now live worse than four years ago," Nikolic urged TV viewers.

Tadic said he would not insult his opponent or call for punishments for anyone. The EU path was the only road that Serbia should take, he continued.

"I am prepared to use all means in foreign relations for the development of this country," Tadic said.

The debate focused on eight main topics, with both candidates having three minutes to answer on each. They were: visions of the future, Kosovo, the EU, education, corruption, foreign policy, the economy and security.

Nikolic said he would never recognise the statehood of the former Serbian province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008. "It will remain Serbian territory while we breathe," he declared.

However, as Tadic also said that he would never recognise Kosovo, the gap between the two men on this issue was not marked.

"The only way to keep Kosovo is to fight with peaceful means and that is what we are doing," Tadic noted.

Nikolic reminded voters that his party supported Serbia's EU integration, and has done so ever since it was formed out of a split in the ranks of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party in 2008.

"I was expelled from a party [the Radicals] because I wanted Serbia to join the EU... How dare you lie that I am not for the EU!" Nikolic told Tadic.

Tadic answered that his party had led the country sucessfully towards the goal of EU membership. The goals reached included: visa liberalisation in 2009, conclusion of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, SAA, in 2010 and the award of EU candidacy in March 2012.

"We are not going to the EU for the [sake of the] EU but for the citizens of Serbia because the EU is the biggest peace project and we want permanent peace in the region," Tadic said.

On the economy, Nikolic said Serbia cannot move forward without economic development and the Democrats were to blame for the poor economic situation in the country.

"Serbia is at the bottom of the list of economic development in the region in terms of average salaries and unemployment," the Progressive leader said.

On the other hand, Tadic recalled Democrat successes in the field of economy, achieved despite the world economic crisis. "We have created new 200,000 jobs - but 400,000 jobs were lost due to the financial crisis," he said.

"We have done a lot to protect jobs in different companies, brought in investors and have invested a lot in highways, bridges," he said.

On May 6, in the first round of the election, Tadic won a slightly larger percentage of the vote, 26.7 per cent, while Nikolic won 25.5 per cent.

In the presidential races in 2004 and 2008, Nikolic led in the first rounds but Tadic clinched victory in the second rounds.

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