Serbia

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BRUSSELS — Serbia’s ambassador to NATO was chatting and joking with colleagues in a multistory parking garage at Brussels Airport when he suddenly strolled to a barrier, climbed over and flung himself to the ground below, a diplomat said.

By the time his shocked colleagues reached him, Branislav Milinkovic was dead.

His motives are a mystery. Three diplomats who knew Milinkovic said he did not appear distraught in the hours leading up to his death Tuesday night. He seemed to be going about his regular business, they said, picking up an arriving delegation of six Serbian officials who were to hold talks with NATO, the alliance that went to war with his country just 13 years ago.

“It was indeed a suicide,” Ine Van Wymersch of the Brussels prosecutor’s office said. She said no further investigation was planned.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details, said they knew of no circumstances — private or professional — that would have prompted him to take his own life. Milinkovic, 52, had mentioned to colleagues at diplomatic functions that he was unhappy about living apart from his wife, a Serbian diplomat based in Vienna, and their 17-year-old son.

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s police on Wednesday banned a Gay Pride march in Belgrade, citing security concerns but also complying with a request from Serbia’s Christian Orthodox church.

Police said they were banning the march planned for Saturday because they feared a repeat of the violence in 2010, when right-wing groups attacked a Gay Pride event in Belgrade. That triggered day-long clashes with the police which left more than 100 people injured.
 

Last year’s gay pride march also was banned by authorities.

The current ban was announced after Patriarch Irinej, the head of Serbia’s Christian Orthodox church, urged the government to prevent Saturday’s march. In a statement, he said such a “parade of shame” would cast a “moral shadow” on Serbia — a conservative Balkan country whose gay population has faced threats and harassment.

BRUSSELS — European Union leaders formally made Serbia a candidate for membership in the bloc, in a remarkable turnaround for a country considered a pariah just over a decade ago.

Serbia had been widely expected to get EU candidacy in December after it captured two top war crimes suspects, but was disappointed when Germany delayed the move, saying it wanted to see more progress in talks with Kosovo.

“We agreed tonight to grant Serbia the status of candidate country,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy said after a meeting of the bloc’s heads of state and government.

“This is a remarkable result,” he said. “I hope Belgrade will continue to encourage good neighborly relations in the Western Balkans.”

Serbia spent much of the 1990s ostracized and isolated from the EU after its then-strongman Slobodan Milosevic started the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. In 1999, NATO bombed Serbia to prevent a crackdown on ethnic Albanians.

Candidate status is an initial step on the road to EU membership. Belgrade will still probably have to wait for about a year to open actual accession negotiations, which can then drag on for several years.

Still, the EU move is politically important for Serbia’s pro-EU president, Boris Tadic, whose party faces elections soon.

The European Parliament urged the bloc’s executive body on Thursday to open accession negotiations with Serbia as soon as possible.

Kosovo, which many Serbs consider the cradle of their statehood and religion, came under international control after the 1999 war during which NATO forces ejected Milosevic’s troops. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia refuses to recognize it.

The EU has not set recognition of Kosovo as a formal requirement for Serbia’s candidacy, but it insists Serbia establish “good-neighborly relations” with its former province.

Over the past year, the two sides have been engaged in EU-mediated talks dealing mostly with practical matters such as recognizing each other’s official documents. A key agreement reached last month allows Kosovo to represent itself in international conferences and spell out the technical details of how Serbia and Kosovo will manage their joint borders and border crossings.

Kosovo has been recognized by nearly 90 nations, including 22 of the EU’s 27 member states. But Serbia has blocked its membership in the U.N., where many countries also reject unilateral declarations of independence.

Tim Judah, a London-based Balkan analyst and author, said the EU decision was good for Serbia “because it means that minds can concentrate on the building a better Serbia for the future, and not resort to looking back to the past.”

“What is good for Serbia is also good for the region,” Judah said. “A sign of confidence in the biggest state of the western Balkans will always have at least some effect with the neighbors.” 

 

Slobodan Lekic can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/slekich