Serbia’s ruling party has selected prime minister Aleksandar Vucic as its nominee for the country’s presidential elections, local media reported on Tuesday evening, in a disappointment for Tomislav Nikolic, the pro-Russian incumbent.

Nebojsa Stefanovic, interior minister said the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) had chosen Mr Vucic, the 46-year old premier, “unanimously” in a party meeting in Belgrade ahead of the April poll to select the head of state.

The run-up to the party’s selection meeting coincided with a sharp uptick in nationalist rhetoric over Serbia’s relationship with neighbouring Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Belgrade in 2008.

Mr Nikolic last month warned the two countries had come close to “the brink of conflict” in a spat over a Serbian train emblazoned with the slogan “Kosovo is Serbia” which was halted on its journey to Mitrovica, a Serb-dominated enclave in Kosovo. Mr Nikolic at the time warned that Belgrade would respond in kind to any attacks on the Serbian minority in Kosovo.

In a statement, the party said Mr Vucic would engage in dialogue with Mr Nikolic “to ensure full national unity of all responsible actors in the Republic of Serbia, to defend Serbia from the forces of the past and ensure its further progress.”

Mr Nikolic and Mr Vucic co-founded the SNS when they resigned from the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) a nationalist grouping.

Polling company Faktor Plus released a poll on Friday, which forecast Mr Vucic would win the first round of the national elections convincingly with the support of 55.2 per cent of respondents.

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