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Europe

Rugova Wins Boycotted Kosovo Election

Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova's party won general elections, boycotted by ethnic Serbs, but fell short of winning an overall majority to form a government by itself, estimates by independent observers showed Sunday.

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Rugova with LDK party supporters

Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo garnered 47 percent of the vote, said Ibrahim Makolli of the non-government monitor Center for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms.

His main rival, the Democratic Party of Kosovo of former
guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci, gained 27 percent, while the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo of former guerrilla leader Ramush Haradinaj came third with eight percent, Makolli said.

If the results were confirmed, no single party would be able to form a government and a future coalition government would have to be negotiated, as had been the case after the 2001 election. First preliminary results were expected on Monday.

The central electoral commission said turnout among Kosovo's 1.4 million voters was 53 percent. But a massive boycott by the Serb minority overshadowed the election, the second in the UN-administered Serbian province since the 1998-99 war between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian separatists.

The vote for Kosovo's 120-seat assembly was seen as a test for the international community's effort to build a multi-ethnic democracy in the southern Serbian province which has been administered by the United Nations since a NATO bombing campaign forced Belgrade to withdraw its troops in June 1999.

Serbs boycott

Kosovo-Wahl-4

But as the polls closed it became clear that the vast majority of ethnic Serbs had boycotted the vote to demand greater autonomy and security in the mainly ethnic Albanian province.

Some 2,000 extra NATO peacekeepers were deployed to secure the election after 19 people died when an ethnic Albanian mob rioted in Serb-populated villages in March, in the worst unrest since the war.

Despite the security fears UN officials said no major incidents disturbed the election. But Kosovo's chief UN administrator Soren Jessen-Petersen said pressure brought on the 80,000-strong Serb minority was the main reason for the boycott.

"More Serbs have decided not to vote because of the pressures," Jessen-Petersen told reporters after the polls closed. He said that "there would have been more Serb voters if those who wanted to have a monopoly over the Kosovo Serbs had not appeared," in a reference to nationalist community leaders, still influential in the province.

Some 200,000 Serbs have left Kosovo since the end of the war, faced with reprisal attacks by Albanian extremists after more than a decade of Serbian repression under former strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Only a handful of voters cast their ballots in Serb areas. In
one polling station in the central village of Gracanica, only three of 340 registered voters showed up at the polling station.

Neue Unruhen im Kosovo

Metroplite Affilohije, left, Serbia's prime minister Vojislav Kostunica, center, and parliament speaker Predrag Markovic, right, lead a protest march to St. Sava Orthodox temple, Friday, March 19, 2004. Thousands of protesters marched peacefully in Serbia in support of their ethnic kin in Kosovo.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica as well as the Serbian Orthodox Church backed the boycott, insisting that greater local autonomy was the only way to ensure security for non-Albanians.

A turning point?

Jessen-Petersen has said that the election marked a "turning point" and would set the stage for a UN review of democracy standards early next year and possible talks on the province's final status. He insisted that only Serb politicians who had taken part in the polls "are legitimate representatives" of the Serb minority who could participate in any future talks on Kosovo's status.

The UN has promised a review of Kosovo's progress in meeting standards of democracy and human rights which could eventually lead to a dialogue on the province's final status.

Ethnic Albanians demand complete independence from Serbia but ethnic Serbs and the government in Belgrade insist that the territory is an inalienable part of the former Yugoslav republic.

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