Serbian parliament approves coalition government

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The Serbian parliament approved a coalition government on Thursday, which newly elected Prime Minister Milos Vucevic described as a "government of continuity" that will lead the Balkan country through geopolitical challenges and tensions with Kosovo.

Most of ministers in the 31-member government come from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) that won the most votes in a national election last December and five smaller parties that form a ruling coalition, with one third of them being newcomers.

The government, which was approved with 152 deputies in the 250-seat parliament, also include two pro-Russian politicians the U.S. imposed sanctions on for corrupt activities and a leader of a far-right party that did not get enough votes to enter the parliament.

"My government, for the most part, will be one of continuity," said Vucevic, a close ally of President Aleksandar Vucic who took over leadership of the party after Vucic stepped down last year.

A lawyer by profession, Vucevic was deputy prime minister and defence minister in the government of his predecessor Ana Brnabic.

He said Serbia´s biggest challenge will be the fight for Kosovo, its former southern province which declared independence in 2008 but which Serbia considers to be part of its territory.

Opposition politicians, who voted against the government, criticised its size, saying it was a result of a "political trade". They also accused Vucevic of putting the fight against corruption and crime at the bottom of the government priorities.

In a three-hour speech presenting his programme to lawmakers, Vucevic said the government would continue to lead the foreign policy based on political independence and military neutrality, meaning in reality Serbia must juggle its ties with Russia and China with its aspiration to join the European Union.

While saying that a full membership of the EU is Serbia's strategic goal, Vucevic also underlined the importance of a partnership with China, whose president Xi Jinping will visit Serbia on May 7 to 8.

He also said Serbia, which has condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations, would not bow to pressures to join sanctions against Moscow.

Vucevic said his government would propose a compulsory four-month military service to increase the security of the country.

He also said that Serbia, which has more than doubled its gross domestic product over the past decade to 69.5 billion euros ($74.48 billion), aims to increase its GDP to 94.2 billion euros by 2027.

($1 = 0.9332 euros)

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Josie Kao)