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Kosovo elects female police chief as new president

Kosovo has elected top police commander Atifete Jahjaga as its first female president. The new appointment, mediated by the US, comes with the promise of electoral and constitutional changes.

Atifete Jahjaga

Jahjaga is the first female president of Kosovo

Kosovo's parliament has elected Atifete Jahjaga, the female deputy chief of the country's police force, as president in an emergency session.

She replaced the former head of state, Behgjet Pacolli, after his appointment was ruled unconstitutional last month.

Jahjaga's swift appointment on Thursday, mediated by the United States, took place within 24 hours of her nomination. It put an end to a political stalemate and averted the threat of an enforced snap election.

The 35-year-old secured the position with 80 votes in the 120-member parliament, with only 100 members voting.

As she was sworn in, Jahjaga spoke of her desire for Kosovo to secure a better future and gain EU membership.

"I believe and I am convinced our dreams will come true," she said in her first speech to parliament.

Neutral candidate

The vote was held after more than 40 members of the country's legislature submitted a request for parliament to meet.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and its coalition partner, the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR), agreed to install Jahjaga as a compromise candidate. She was put forward as a candidate by the leading opposition party the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).

Former president Behgjet Pacolli,

The former president Behgjet Pacolli was elected in February

The parties also agreed to electoral and constitutional changes. Direct presidential elections open to the public will be introduced in 2012 and parliamentary elections will be held a year early in 2013.

In accordance with the changes, she will be the final head of state to be elected by Kosovo's parliament and will effectively serve an interim term until the new electoral regulations are put in place.

Kosovo was left without a president last month after it was found that the number of delegates present for former leader, Behgjet Pacolli's election, had been insufficient after a walkout by opposition members.

Surprise choice

Prior to Thursday's election, Jahjaga had never held a political office and was a relatively unknown figure.

But the US ambassador to Kosovo, Christopher Dell, who mediated the election deal, expressed his support for the appointment. He described her as "one of Kosovo's finest and most senior police officers."

"Atifete Jahjaga woke up this morning with no idea that her life was about to change. I know for a fact she has never sought this honor," he added.

In addition to being the first female president, Jahjaga is also the youngest head of state since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia three years ago.

The Western educated law graduate had previously been serving as deputy head of the 7,000-strong Kosovo police. She joined the force in 2000, a year after NATO ousted Serbian forces from the country.

Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill, Richard Connor (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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