Profile 02 Dec 08

Hashim Thaci 'From 'Snake' to Prime Minister

Thaci, born in 1968, joined the Albanian independence cause as a student, becoming one of the leaders of the protest movement in the early 1990s. As the Serbian crackdown intensified, he left for Switzerland, studying history and international relations in Zurich.

Returning to Kosovo as a senior figure in the guerrilla movement, the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, he received the nickname “The Snake” for his skill in evading the Serbian police. He took part in the abortive peace talks in Rambouillet in 1999 and after the war founded the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, the main faction to emerge from the ranks of the KLA.

Thaci is seen as a shrewd tactician, capable of skilled manoeuvring to achieve his goals, while keeping a tight hold on the reins of power. After the victory of the PDK in the parliamentary elections of November 17, 2007, Thaci was elected Kosovo’s Prime Minister.

On February 17, 2008, Thaci declared Kosovo an independent state in parliament.

During his three-year stint as Prime Minister, he has also led the country to membership of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

But Thaci has come under criticism more recently from local and international actors for his government’s failure to combat corruption and over allegations that he is trying to control the media.

Under pressure, he reshuffled his cabinet in early 2010, removing a number of junior and deputy ministers, while leaving the big beasts, including Minister of Transport Fatmir Limaj who is suspected of corruption, in place. His relationship with Limaj, another key figure in the PDK, is understood to be strained.

He has also been mocked in the media for his poor English and his gaffes. On a visit to the US in 2009, he was reported to have called the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, “Ms Albright”. He also claimed this year to have been mistaken for film star George Clooney.

His party, however, remains, according to all polls, the most popular in the country and he was reappointed as leader of the PDK, unopposed, in the run-up to the December 12 snap poll.

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