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Polls close in Serbia -

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Polls close in Serbia

AM - Monday, 4 February , 2008 08:12:00

Reporter: Jane Hutcheon

TONY EASTLEY: In Serbia, polling booths have closed in the final round of the country's
presidential elections. A result could be known later this morning.

If the first round winner, ultra-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic triumphs, then political sources say
Serbia's province of Kosovo, could declare independence from Belgrade within days.

Kosovo has been run by the UN since 1999 when a US-led NATO bombing campaign drove out Serb forces.

Europe correspondent Jane Hutcheon reports.

(music)

JANE HUTCHEON: The smiling faces of President Boris Tadic and his opponent Tomislav Nikolic beam
down onto Kneza Milosa. It's the road where the bombed remains of the army and police headquarters
still stand, reminders of NATO's 1999 campaign to stop Serbia's decade of repression of Kosovo.

Both presidential candidates oppose Kosovo's independence. But if Mr Nikolic defeats the moderate
incumbent Boris Tadic, no one's quite sure how an ultra-nationalist president would respond to
Kosovo's statehood.

Marko Blagojevic is a pollster. I asked him whether Serbs would want to retaliate after
independence is declared.

MARKO BLAGOJEVIC: Some of the people in Serbia would welcome such measures, harsher measures toward
countries that have expressed their will to recognise the independence, should it ever come.

JANE HUTCHEON: Kosovo, a 250-kilometre drive south of Belgrade, is home to two-million people, 90
per cent are Albanian and Muslim while Orthodox Christian Serbs make up about seven per cent.

Since the end of war, it's been administered by the UN, but Serbs trace their history in the
territory back almost a thousand years.

(market sounds)

The Green Market is where Belgrade residents buy their fruit and vegetables. Most of the
stallholders are either retirees or laid-off workers.

Radmilla Boskovic worked in a liquor factor in Kosovo for 35 years. Mention the words "Kosovo" and
"independence" in the same breath and she becomes extremely emotional.

RADMILLA BOSKOVIC (translated): It's the holiest of all the places, all our religious and cultural
heritage is there.

JANE HUTCHEON: Has Serbia already lost Kosovo?

RADMILLA BOSKOVIC (translated): No, there is no way we're going to give up Kosovo. It's our heart
and soul, I wouldn't give it up for nothing.

(music)

JANE HUTCHEON: Most Serbs seem to accept Kosovo will go its own way. Importantly, however, neither
the Serbs nor the Albanian Kosovars have an appetite to return to the kind of violence of the
1990s.

This is Jane Hutcheon for AM.