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news 04 Nov 13

Kosovo PM Says Polls Valid Despite Violence

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said crucial local elections which could boost Kosovo’s EU hopes were valid in spite of a polling station attack and a boycott in the Serb-dominated north.

Edona Peci

Thaci said on Monday that the low turnout among Serbs opposed to Kosovo’s independence and an attack on a polling station in the divided northern town of Mitrovica would not affect the overall success of the polls.

“These isolated incidents won’t have a decisive impact on the electoral process,” Thaci told a press conference the day after the historic vote on Sunday – the first to be held right across Kosovo by the Pristina authorities.

“This turnout would have been even higher if isolated criminal groups had not hindered citizens’ turnout,” he said.

The polls were a key element of the EU-brokered deal to normalise relations between Pristina and its former ruler Belgrade.

But many in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo boycotted the vote and masked men attacked several polling stations on the Serb side of the divided northern town of Mitrovica, causing some of them to close early.

The violence drew widespread international condemnation.

“These incidents are even more harmful because they happened during an electoral process which would have made a step forward on normalising relations between Belgrade and Pristina, contributing to stability and security in the region,” Lamberto Zannier, general secretary of the OSCE, which helped to administer the vote, said in a statement on Monday.

The European Union on Monday also condemned “the violent incidents of yesterday in Mitrovica north which disrupted the otherwise orderly run electoral process in the rest of Kosovo”.

Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaha praised the polls as a success but condemned what she said was intimidation against Serb voters.

“The incidents and irregularities that have taken place in some parts of Kosovo, as attempts to infringe the free vote of the citizens are being thoroughly investigated and prosecuted by the authorities, evidence of the coordination and cooperation of the institutions of Kosovo to ensure the constitutionality and legality in the whole territory throughout this election process,” Jahjaga said in a statement.

Aleksandar Vulin, the Serbian minister in charge of Kosovo issues, said Belgrade would punish those responsible if they were caught.

“Serbia honours the Brussels agreement [with Pristina] and it is not responsible for these incidents. Everyone should know that Jarinje [a village on Kosovo’s border with Serbia] is not going to be a safe house, nor will central Serbia be a sanctuary to those who set Mitrovica on fire, and evidence will be collected against them,” Vulin told a news conference late on Sunday.

Belgrade had urged Serbs in their stronghold in north Kosovo, where they form the majority, to take part in the Pristina-run polls for the first time, as Serbia seeks to advance its EU ambitions.

But some local Serbs in Kosovo have strongly opposed giving any legitimacy to the Pristina authorities since the 1998-99 war in the former Serbian province which claimed independence in 2008, although the extent of the boycott demanded by hardliners in the area has not yet become clear.

OSCE spokesman Nikola Gaon said that ballots from three polling stations in northern Mitrovica where incidents happened on Sunday had been annulled.

One candidate for mayor of Mitrovica, Krstimir Pantic, condemned what he called “the bestiality and arrogance of the attackers”.

“They started smashing ballot boxes, throwing ballot papers around, insulting members of the election commission, and one older woman was seriously injured because one of the attackers hit her with a chair,” Pantic told local media on Sunday evening.

Albanian parties claim victory

According to preliminary figures from Kosovo’s election commission, 47.83 per cent of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots, but the Serb-dominated constituency in the north has yet to declare turnout figures from polling stations which shut early.

The election commission has not announced preliminary results yet, but according to figures published online by iVote, a company working for the commission, there will be a second round in 24 municipalities out of 38.

iVote’s figures suggest that the Kosovo Democratic Party (PDK) won in four municipalities, the Kosovo Democratic League (LDK) in three, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo in one; an independent candidate was elected mayor of Han i Elezit, while a Turkish party won in Mamusha.

Several Albanian parties have already claimed victory however and some even set off fireworks to celebrate in Pristina on Sunday night.

“Today, it was reconfirmed that the PDK is the number one party. The PDK leads in most of the municipalities in the Kosovo Republic,” PDK leader and prime minister Thaci said late on Sunday.

“The PDK won 230,000 votes throughout the country,” he claimed.

The Kosovo Democratic League also claimed that it had won in most municipalities.

“The LDK managed to regain the voters’ trust. Therefore it has become the major party again,” Isa Mustafa, the head of the LDK, told a press conference on Sunday night.

The prosecutor in Mitrovica has now opened an investigation into the violemnce on Sunday.

The OSCE meanwhile has withdrawn some 60 out of more than 200 of its staff from the north after the violent incidents.

Kosovo police had deployed 5,500 officers to secure over 2,300 polling stations during Sunday’s vote.

Official results are expected on Wednesday at the latest.

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