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Kosovo's president steps down after election ruled invalid

Kosovan President Behgjet Pacolli has resigned after a top court ruled his election invalid following accusations of irregularities. The multi-millionaire's resignation could lead to fresh elections.

Behgjet Pacolli

Pacolli is disliked by many for his business ties with Russia

Behgjet Pacolli stepped down as president of Kosovo on Wednesday after the country's highest court ruled that his election had been unconstitutional.

The nine-member constitutional court said the election of Pacolli by members of the country's parliament in February "was unconstitutional and shall no longer be in force."

However, Pacolli has resolved to stand again for the presidency - his legal team insists that he did nothing wrong.

Kosovan Prime Minister Hashim Thaci

Thaci had forged a deal with Pacolli, which could now be at risk

"The president of the Republic of Kosovo, Behgjet Pacolli, is ready to respect the decision," Pacolli's representative Ibrahim Gashi said.

"Pacolli will be the candidate of the coalition partners in the election of a new president because he did not violate the constitution," Gashi added.

The ruling absolved Pacolli of any responsibility for the fact that the election process was flawed, saying the circumstances surrounding the vote were to blame. The court said that, for an election to be valid, more than one candidate had to stand and that at least two-thirds of parliamentary lawmakers had to be present for the vote.

Only 67 out of 120 members of parliament were present for the vote after a walkout by opposition delegates. They cited Pacolli's business links with Russia, which is opposed to Kosovan independence. Pacolli, owner of the Swiss-based construction firm Mabatex and nicknamed "the richest Kosovan," had been the only candidate.

Uncertain future for prime minister

The Kosovan parliament

Many members of parliament walked out ahead of the presidential vote

Although Pacolli's New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) only has eight parliamentary seats, he received backing for the presidential candidacy in a power-sharing deal with Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).

It remains unclear whether or not fresh parliamentary elections are now necessary. The Kosovan parliament approved a second term as prime minister for Thaci on the same day that Pacolli was elected and this, too, may now be ruled invalid.

If Pacolli were unable to become president, his party could in turn withdraw its support for Thaci as prime minister and new elections could be necessary.

Kosovo has been in political turmoil since September last year when former President Fatmir Sejdiu, of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was forced to quit when the constitutional court ruled he could not serve as president while remaining the leader of his party.

Richard Connor (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Editor: Susan Houlton

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