Serbia gets new government that will pursue EU, Russia ties

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia's Parliament approved on Thursday a new, populist-led government of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who has promised to pursue the Balkan country's integration into the European Union while maintaining close ties with Russia.

The government was voted into office with 163 votes for and 62 against following three days of heated debate and a marathon opening speech by Vucic.

The prime minister cut short his previous term and called the snap vote in April, saying he wanted a clear mandate to press on with pro-EU reforms. The opposition has accused Vucic, a hardliner-turned-reformer, of quashing dissent and freedom of speech at home.

Apart from Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party, the new Cabinet also includes the pro-Russian Socialist Party. For the first time in the staunchly conservative nation, the government includes an openly gay minister.

Serbia has sought to balance its historic ties with Moscow with the proclaimed goal of joining the EU. The troubled Balkan nation remains Russia's only non-NATO ally in the region where Moscow holds traditionally strong influence.

Belgrade has refused to join the EU's sanctions against Russia for its policies in Ukraine, while Moscow has supported Serbia's claim over breakaway Kosovo. Foreign Policy analyst Aleksandar Joksimovic predicted that Serbia will continue with the same policies under the new government.

"At this moment, it seems that there is no pressure on Serbia to choose one of the sides," Joksimovic said.

Reflecting the nation's ties to both Russia and the West, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is expected to visit Belgrade next week, while Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is due here next month.

In his speech, Vucic pledged to speed up the EU accession process and boost the economy, which has been plagued by widespread corruption and devastated by the political crisis of the 1990s.

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