Serbian TV: PM cancels visits to EU and US in protest

AP News
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Posted: Jun 13, 2016 11:17 AM
Serbian TV: PM cancels visits to EU and US in protest

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbian Prime Minister-designate Aleksandar Vucic has canceled a visit to Brussels and separate talks with American officials after reports in a pro-government newspaper that European Union and U.S. ambassadors to Serbia are fueling street protests against his rule and triggering "chaos" in the country, state TV reported Monday.

Vucic, a former ultranationalist turned alleged pro-EU reformer, was scheduled to travel on June 21 to Brussels for the formal opening of EU membership talks and later this month to the U.S. on an inaugural Air Serbia flight to New York, where he was to hold talks with American officials.

A somber-faced Vucic met jointly on Monday with U.S. Ambassador Kyle Scott and the head of the EU mission in Serbia, Michael Davenport. A government statement after the closed-door meeting did not mention the trip cancellations, but only quoted Vucic as thanking the two officials for their support of Serbia in its EU membership bid.

Vucic's move comes amid increasing pressure by Russia, a traditional Slavic ally, against Serbia joining the EU and NATO. Vucic made an unannounced visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin last month which resulted in calls by the Kremlin that proven pro-Russian ministers be included in the new Serbian government after Vucic's populist party victory in April elections.

"We expect the visit of the Serbian prime minister to Brussels once the government is formed and sworn in," European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said. It's not yet clear when that will happen.

Vucic's office did not return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Belgrade's Informer daily, which is close to Vucic and is considered his mouthpiece, said last week that the U.S. and EU ambassadors are actively working on "radicalizing" street protests against his rule, trying to trigger "chaos" in the country.

Foreign policy analyst Bosko Jaksic noted that Vucic did not distance himself from the allegations leveled by his "favorite newspaper."

"I'm afraid that such open attacks against the U.S. and EU ambassadors herald the start of an open confrontation with the EU and the West in general," Jaksic said, adding that the sudden shift from his pro-EU stands happened after the surprise meeting with Putin last month.

Both the European Commission and the U.S. ambassador vehemently denied they have anything to do with recent street demonstrations in Belgrade. The protesters are outraged at shady demolitions in an area of the capital marked for a United Arab Emirates-financed real estate project which is supported by Vucic.

The citizens' protests have become a challenge to Vucic, who faces accusations of autocratic rule despite promising to take Serbia toward EU integration.

The opposition "It is Enough" party said that Vucic's visits were cancelled after signals from the West that he is unwelcome after "lynching" campaigns he and his media outlets have been conducting against his political opponents.

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Associated Press writer Lorne Cook contributed from Brussels.