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Political Standoff in Kosovo

Balkans: Power-sharing feud keeps ethnic Albanian leader Rugova out of the presidency.


PRISTINA, Yugoslavia — Moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova failed to win the Kosovo presidency in two rounds of voting Thursday as the separatist province's new parliament deadlocked in a three-way standoff among his party, former guerrillas and Serbian representatives.

A first-place finish for Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo in November elections positioned him as the leading candidate for president in a new government planned for the U.N.-administered province, which officially remains part of Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia.

But ethnic Albanian parties that emerged from the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army refused Thursday to support Rugova unless he reaches a power-sharing agreement with them. His party has refused to do that, insisting that it has won the right to administer Kosovo without formal coalition partners.

A similar standoff took place during a first round of voting for president in December.

With 22 seats in the 120-member parliament, the Serbian party, the Return Coalition, could give the presidency to Rugova. But so far, Serbian representatives have voted against Rugova or cast invalid protest ballots.

If Rugova wins office with just the support of his own party and Serbian votes, he might be perceived as engaging in some kind of sellout, which could undercut his future political strength.

"The hour of truth is here," Sabri Hamiti, a top Democratic League official, told parliament before Thursday's balloting. "We asked the voters for a mandate, and we got it. This is why I call on everybody to vote here today for [Rugova], a man well known to you all."

But speakers from the Democratic Party of Kosovo, headed by former KLA political leader Hashim Thaci, and from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, headed by former guerrilla commander Ramush Haradinaj, criticized Rugova's party for refusing to discuss a power-sharing arrangement.

"The major political party did not make any step toward cooperation, but to the contrary, they declared this process closed," Jakup Krasniqi, a leading Democratic Party official, complained in parliament.

The president will nominate a prime minister, who will head a government with broad powers. Most ethnic Albanians, who make up the great majority of Kosovo's population, hope creation of such a government will pave the way to independence, which is opposed by the Serbs.

Indirectly accusing Rugova of planning to win office with the support of Serbian votes, Krasniqi declared that Rugova's party "should be transparent about whose extra votes they are waiting for."

Tensions between ethnic Albanians and Serbs remain high in Kosovo after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's 11-week bombing campaign in 1999 forced former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to pull his forces out of the province, ending a crackdown against the independence-minded ethnic Albanian population.

The NATO-led peacekeeping force that entered in mid-1999 was unable to prevent a wave of revenge attacks against Serbs, who still cannot move freely and safely outside their enclaves.

On Thursday, critics sought to raise further questions about Rugova's possible reliance on Serbs to win election. Bedrush Collaku, a leader of the small People's Movement of Kosovo, which also has roots in the former guerrilla force, urged parliament to create a special commission to "thoroughly investigate and verify the biography of Mr. Rugova, and to find out what are his secret agreements and what did he sign with the war criminals Milosevic and [Serbian President Milan] Milutinovic."

Collaku's call was a clear reference to a meeting in Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital, that Rugova held under duress with Milosevic during the NATO bombing. Although few question that he was under enormous pressure at the time, many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo still were disappointed when they saw video footage of Rugova at the meeting.

Under U.N.-established rules, 80 votes are required to win the presidency in the first or second round of balloting. After that, a simple majority of 61 votes is enough to win.

Rugova won 49 votes in the first round of balloting in December; 50 in Thursday's initial vote; and 51 in the day's next ballot.

No date was set for the next attempt to elect a president.

Times staff writer Holley reported from Warsaw and special correspondent Gjoci from Pristina.

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