Pressure mounts on Serbia to reconsider Nobel boycott

Its decision to avoid tomorrow's ceremony for jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo triggered sharp rebuke from the European Union, with lawmakers and rights activists at home calling on the pro-European government to explain.

In Brussels EU enlargement spokeswoman Angela Filote said yesterday any country that aspired to join the bloc was expected "to fully share the values of the EU, and protection of human rights is one of (its) fundamental values."

EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele may raise the issue during a meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic today, she added."We're concerned about this action and we're going to talk with our counterparts to see if it's possible to hear a different decision," Filote said.

Apart from Russia, Serbia is the only European country to boycott the ceremony which China, furious over the award to its dissident, demanded should be shunned. EU membership is a priority for Serbia.

In Belgrade parliament's foreign affairs committee asked Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic to explain the decision in person, with senior MPs allied to the ruling coalition making their displeasure known.

"We are fully entitled to demand an explanation for any foreign policy decision on an important issue," said Nada Kolundzija, the parliamentary head of the Coalition for European Serbia, the senior ruling partner.

The opposition liberals and social democrats also asked for an official explanation, warning of "political consequences of such decision," the Tanjug news agency said.
Jeremic admitted the decision was prompted in part by a desire to keep on side with Beijing.
"China is a proven friend of Serbia (and)... this decision represents the state interest of Serbia in the best way in this moment," Jeremic told private B92 television.

"This was not an easy decision and it might not leave the best feeling in the stomach, but after a long consideration we have opted for such a move," he said.

The Chinese ambassador in Belgrade, Wei Jinghua, said meanwhile China "highly appreciates Serbia's decision," local media reported.A group of prominent human rights non-governmental organisations, including Humanitarian Law Centre and Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, said meanwhile that the government had made a diplomatic blunder.

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