By RAY FLEMING

THERE has been a lull in the difficult negotiations over the future of Kosovo because the European Union and the United States wisely decided to put on hold their plans for Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia until after the Serbian presidential election had been decided. The first round takes place today and the probable second round on 3 February. The status of Kosovo and its connection to Serbia's projected future membership of the European Union are at the heart of today's election in which the pro-Western presidential incumbent Boris Tadic and the eurosceptic nationalist Tomislav Nikolic are the leading contenders in a field of nine. Both men are opposed to independence for Kosovo which has been a part of Serbia for centuries despite having a majority ethnic Albanian population. However, it is probable that Tadic would want to find ways of opening negotiations with the EU regardless of Kosovo's independence whereas Nikolic would be less likely to look for a compromise. The Serbian people are divided on this issue. The opinion polls give the nationalist Nikolic a slight lead over Tadic but this could disappear at a second round which would be a replay of the last election four years ago. Kosovo is an emotional issue for Serbs. It was lost to the Ottoman Turks in 1389 and regained in the Balkan Wars of 1912; Tito made it an autonomous province but Serbian nationalism was rekindled by Milosevic in 1998 before the UN, EU and Nato intervened.

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