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The great clean up

Destruction of the Sloboda bridge has been a double problem internationally ever since April 1999.

First the wreckage blocked the River Danube, Europe's second largest after the Volga and an increasingly important trade link as the European Union expands eastwards. It is the biggest part of the Rhine-Main-Danube inland waterway barge system which stretches across eight countries from Rotterdam to the Black Sea.

Secondly Sloboda was the biggest road crossing in Novi Sad which is Serbia's second city, with a 400,000 population.

More importantly still, it is a crucial part of the Corridor Ten Pan-European link from Greece to the rest of the EU. The road carries significant Middle Eastern traffic to Europe and trucks from Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey pass by the dozens every hour.

But after years of sanctions and continuing political turmoil, Serbia could not afford to repair the bridge, especially after rebuilding a truck and rail bridge downstream.

It did manage a clearance contract with local firm Mostogradnja, the original builder, to stabilise the bridge, support the remaining structure and lift out distorted deck sections and fallen cables.

But the river is still blocked because a temporary pontoon bridge is in place downstream and this can open only twice weekly for boats.

Repairing the bridge is a priority for the EU says Maurizio Ranalli, for European Agency for Reconstruction, and so funds are being made available.

A larger crossing was also mooted with a completely new replacement bridge. But the EU remit is only to restore crucial links.

Rebuild would also have incurred further costs of up to E 10M because the old structure would have had to be demolished first.

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