BELGRADE, Serbia - Serbian lawmakers on Friday overwhelmingly supported an agreement normalizing relations with breakaway Kosovo, a potentially landmark deal that could end years of tensions between the Balkan antagonists and put them both on a path to European Union membership.
Parliament backed the deal in a 173-24 vote. The agreement drew support from the parties of the ruling, nationalist-led government and the center-left opposition. A pro-Russian, nationalist party was the only group that voted against it.
The deal will give Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership authority over rebel Kosovo Serbs, ending Serbia's control in northern Kosovo. The Serbs, in return, will be granted wide-ranging autonomy.
Parliamentary backing is a boost for the Serbian government, which reached the agreement with Kosovo this month in Brussels, but has faced pressure from nationalists and Serb hardliners in Kosovo's divided north, who rejected it.
"This is not just a simple vote about the agreement," Prime Minister Ivica Dacic told lawmakers at the end of the daylong, heated debate. "This vote shows what we stand for and which way we want to go."
Serbia has rejected Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence - which has been recognized by more than 90 countries including the United States and 22 of the EU's 27 members - but it must improve ties with the former province to advance its bid to join the EU.
"The agreement with Pristina has sent a strong message across the whole of Europe about Serbia's European attitude," EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said earlier Friday during a visit to Belgrade. "Serbia moved beyond past conflicts and closer to the future within Europe."