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News 24 Feb 14

Belgrade’s Candidate Wins North Kosovo Mayor Vote

Goran Rakic was voted mayor of Serb-majority Mitrovica North, beating Oliver Ivanovic, who is in custody accused of war crimes, after an election race dogged by controversy and violence.

Edona Peci BIRN Pristina

Rakic, the candidate from the Belgrade-backed ‘Srpska’ list, took 52.6 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s re-run polls to win the mayoralty, according to preliminary results published by the Kosovo Central Election Commission.

His rival Ivanovic, who was detained last month on suspicion of involvement in war crimes against ethnic Albanians and murders committed after the late 1990s conflict, took 27.7 per cent.

“As new mayor my first request will be to free Mr Oliver Ivanovic and all other unjustly held Serbs,” Rakic said after the vote, according to media reports.

The turnout was low, with only 5,134 of over 28,000 eligible voters participating in the elections, a sign of continuing Serb discontent about taking part in polls organised by the Pristina authorities.

The electoral race in Mitrovica North was seen as crucial to improving relations between Pristina and Belgrade but was marred by violence and prolonged by political controversy.

Elections were first held on November 3, but had to be repeated two weeks later after three polling stations were attacked by masked men on election day.

The first re-run vote could not produce a new mayor, but after a run-off held on December 1, Srpska’s Krstimir Pantic was elected.

But in January, Pantic unexpectedly turned down the position, refusing to sign a document endorsing the oath of office to become mayor.

“By signing below a text where the coat of arms of Kosovo appears, suggesting that Kosovo is a republic, I would violate the constitution of Serbia,” he explained.

Another candidate for the mayoralty, Dimitrije Janicijevic, was also shot dead outside his apartment in January.

The outcome of the elections in Mitrovica North is important for the establishment of the Association of Serb Municipalities, a body envisaged by last April’s EU-brokered deal on normalising relations between Pristina and Belgrade.

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