Serbian President Boris Tadic and caretaker Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica will meet Thursday to try to resolve the political crisis in the country. They are to reach a power-sharing deal and see off the threat of radical ultranationalists, local media said.
There was no official confirmation of the meeting, which would try to resolve a government crisis that has threatened to plunge the Balkan country into isolation by returning allies of the late nationalist president Slobodan Milosevic to power.
Tadic has called on Serbia's leaders to decide by Friday whether they will form a pro-Western or a nationalist government. If they cannot decide, he has said he will next Tuesday call general elections that could return the radical ultranationalists to power after inconclusive polls on January.
Tadic's Democratic Party - a key reformist force in Serbia - was also to hold a top-level meeting Thursday to plot its future moves, but there was no clear indication of what the outcome of the meeting would be. "I have no idea what will happen," an official close to Kostunica told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Stability in Serbia is crucial for international efforts to find a lasting solution for the status of Kosovo - Serbia's separatist province that has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999 and the last potential flash-point here following the wars of the 1990s.
Several attempts at a Tadic-Kostunica deal have failed in the past, prompting Kostunica to turn to the nationalists and back the election this week of an extremist right-wing leader, Tomislav Nikolic, to the powerful post of speaker of the Serbian parliament.
The move has raised fears that Kostunica will forge a government coalition with the nationalists and push Serbia back into the isolation that marked the Milosevic era of the 1990s.
Alarmed by the development, international officials have appealed to Tadic and Kostunica to overcome their differences. On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Kostunica on the phone to express EU concern over the Serbia crisis.
Adding to the concerns, Nikolic, whose boss Vojislav Seselj is being tried at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, suggested late Wednesday that the nationalist-dominated parliament could declare a state of emergency to avoid new elections.
Nikolic said the emergency measures could be introduced in response to growing prospects that Kosovo will be allowed to split from Serbia in a U.N. Security Council vote expected in the coming weeks.
The United States and EU nations support independence for Albanian-dominated Kosovo, but Russia has backed Serbia's opposition to the move.
In Serbia, the Kosovo issue has led to a surge in nationalism, with Nikolic's Radicals saying Serbia should give up its European Union aspirations if the province becomes independent and turn to a close alliance with Russia. Both Nikolic and Kostunica have threatened to cut diplomatic ties with any country that recognizes an independent Kosovo.
Tadic and other pro-Western politicians have criticized Nikolic's election as parliament speaker, saying it was damaging the republic's interests. Liberal leader Cedomir Jovanovic has vowed to call street protests if either Nikolic or Kostunica are appointed as prime minister-designate.
In a statement on Thursday, Tadic's Democratic Party called for Nikolic's replacement from the parliament speaker post, saying that he has "in only two days made several statements and moves that are dangerous for Serbia and its people."