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Europe

Kosovo's Steps to Independence

After months of legislative stalement Kosovo finally elected a president and prime minister on Monday, paving the way for a host of social and economic reforms.

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Not out of the dark yet: NATO soldiers still keep the peace in Pristina.

The former war-torn province of Kosovo took the first step towards self-governance on Monday, choosing a president and prime minister after four months of legislative deadlock.

Members of Kosovo’s 120-member national assembly, elected last November, overwhelmingly approved the appointment of Albanian moderate Ibrahim Rugova as president and Bajram Rexhepi, a member of the opposition, as prime minister.

The decisions were a long time coming. Since last November’s election, legislators had tried three times to select the politicians that would govern the UN-controlled province with no success.

Rugova, Rexhepi und Thaci

Kosovo's new president Ibrahim Rugova, left, joins hands with the newly elected Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, centre, and former rebel leader Hashim Thaci, in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Monday, March 4, 2002. After a three month political deadlock, lawmakers completed a government, paving the way to self rule in Kosovo.(AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

Last Thursday, under western pressure, leaders of the three main parties inked a deal in the early morning hours selecting Rugova (photo, left) of the majority Democratic League of Kosovo, and Rexhepi (photo, center), of the Rugova’s rival party, whose chief led the ethnic Albanian rebel group that fought Serb forces in the late 1990s.

The deal was certified Monday by a 88-3 vote with 15 abstentions in the national assembly. After the vote, the deputies stood and greeted the two with thunderous applause.

"We will jointly work for a free, democratic, peaceful, prosperous and independent Kosovo," Rugova told the legislators.

Desperately seeking independence

Independence is the key word in Kosovo, which has been governed by the United Nations since Former Serb President Slobodan Milosevic pulled his forces out of the region under heavy NATO bombing in 1999. About 36,000 NATO soldiers still patrol the region and the UN administration, under the new leadership of German Michael Steiner, has veto power over any decision made by the national assembly.

Many in Kosovo are desperate for independence but are first faced with the challenge of repairing the economic and social damage wreaked by bombing and ethnic bloodlust.

Steiner said Monday was "a good day for Kosovo.

"These are men who will work for the interests of Kosovo and I think they are united in bringing Kosovo forward," he added.

German wants economic, social reform

Steiner has said he would like to see the province’s private sector active in creating jobs and income and plans to present the United Nations with a comprehensive plan on tackling privatization and property reform. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s former foreign policy chief has also come out early for the rights of the minority Serb population.

Ethnic infighting continues to plague Kosovo and there are few signs the remaining Serbs have anything but an uphill battle ahead of them. Their elected politicians are in the assembly’s minority. Of the ten ministerial posts assigned on Monday, only one, the agricultural office, belongs to a Serb.

Among the abstentions on Monday’s vote was Serb assembly member Rada Trajkovic who promised to abstain from future votes if Serb rights, above all security, were not addressed.

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