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Serbia defiant on Kosovo ruling, opposition critical

Serbia rejected the World Court ruling that backed Kosovo's independence declaration on Thursday, a stand that might create more problems for its stalled European Union membership bid.

The non-binding ruling of The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) could also dent the standing of Serbia's ruling reformers, as the powerful nationalist opposition quickly attacked the ruling as a failure of government policy.

In a major blow to Belgrade, the ICJ said in a non-binding ruling requested by Serbia that Kosovo's secession from Serbia in 2008 did not violate international law.

"Serbia will never recognize the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo," Tadic told reporters in the Serbian capital. The government called an urgent session for Friday.

He said Thursday's ruling was "a difficult decision for Serbia" but Belgrade would continue to try for a United Nations resolution that would urge both sides to start a dialogue.

Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic also said Serbia would continue to treat Kosovo as its territory. Brussels wants Serbia to show "a constructive stance" on Kosovo to advance its EU bid, on hold since it applied for membership last December.

The European Union and the European Parliament welcomed the ICJ ruling and said they were ready to help establish dialogue, but it was unclear what form or substance it could take.

Serbia wants dialogue

Serbia wants a dialogue on Kosovo's status, but Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders have refused this, saying that independence is irrevocable.

Tadic said Serbia would not resort to violence and would prefer to negotiate a compromise solution with Kosovo.

Serbian opposition parties were quick to attack the ruling coalition for "a major failure of their foreign policy" and demanded an urgent session of parliament.

Serbs consider Kosovo, home to dozens of Orthodox Church monasteries, as the cradle of medieval Serbian religion and culture, and control of the territory is an important issue.

Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 brought down the Kostunica government after only one year in office.

Tomislav Nikolic of the conservative Serbian Progressive Party, the strongest opposition group in parliament, said the ICJ ruling "was profoundly bad for Serbia."

"The Serbian leadership was fooling the people with its claims that the ruling will be in our favor," he said in a televised address to reporters.

Serbia lost control of Kosovo in 1999 when a 78-day NATO bombing campaign ended a two-year war between Serbia and ethnic Kosovo Albanians, and put in place a U.N. administration and a NATO-monitored ceasefire.

Nine years later the Albanian majority, backed by the United States and most of the European Union, proclaimed independence -- something Serbia said it would never accept.

[Source: By Ivana Sekularac, Reuters, Belgrade, 22Jul10]

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The Question of Kosovo
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