Serbia wants emergency aid

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia asked Europe, Canada, Japan and the United States yesterday for an urgent 400 million euros ($431.8 million) in aid to ease budgetary strains that could threaten further reforms. The call was made at a meeting attended by international financial heavyweights only days after Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was shot dead in Belgrade, leaving Serbia with neither president nor premier. Foreign officials who attended Djindjic’s funeral on Saturday pledged greater help for Serbia, which has declared a state of emergency and launched a war on organized crime gangs suspected of the killing. Of the proposed 400 million euros, 250 million would help the budget and the rest would ease balance of payments problems. «Our budget is burdened with payments of pensions, wages and social benefits. Any imbalance would mean trouble for education, health and pension reform,» Welfare Minister Gordana Matkovic told a news conference. In a bid to win some foreign trade relief, Serbia also asked the European Union to increase by 25 percent a quota for Serbian textile exports to the EU, lift anti-dumping measures imposed earlier this year on its sole steelworks Sartid and review its decision on scrapping sugar export subsidies to the Balkans. Finance Minister Bozidar Djelic said the meeting, scheduled before Djindjic’s murder, would continue tonight for more detailed talks with EU financial officials. «We asked for specific things – to organize a donor conference in June this year and to receive an additional 400 million euros in assistance,» Djelic told reporters. The only such conference since the October 2000 ouster of Slobodan Milosevic was held in June 2001, when donors pledged $1.3 billion to help the nation’s postwar recovery. The call for more cash came after the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) urged the world to boost aid to Serbia. «The recent decline in international assistance to this country must be reversed, and we must work to support the emerging democracy’s full and speedy integration into Europe,» the UNDP’s resident coordinator, Francis O’Donnell, said at the weekend. Timothy Ash, associate director at London-based Bear Sterns, told Reuters that investors felt things were under control. «We are encouraged by the assertive response from the government in terms of cracking down on organized crime and recommitting to the reform effort. Serbia still has a strong team of pretty hot reformers… What they lack perhaps is the political acumen of Djindjic, but we think reform will continue.»

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