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Former Guerrilla Chief Claims Win in Kosovo Election

Former ethnic-Albanian guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci has claimed victory in Kosovo's parliamentary elections, although votes are still being counted in the Serbian province.

Thaci told cheering supporters after the polls closed late Saturday that Kosovo has shown the world it is ready for independence.

With about 80 percent of the ballots counted, unofficial results compiled by election observers indicate Thaci's Democratic Party winning about 34 percent of the vote.

The party of Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu is in second place with about 22 percent.

If the results hold up, Thaci, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, would become Kosovo's prime minister, but he will have to form a coalition government.

Turnout was a record low 45 percent. Kosovo's ethnic-Serb minority boycotted the vote.

Official final results are expected early this week.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack hailed Kosovo's elections as a democratic step forward, and said the U.S. deeply regrets the decision of the Kosovo Serbs not to participate.

International mediators are to start more talks with Serbia and Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian leadership on Tuesday about the future status of the province.

Belgrade is offering the province broad autonomy, but the ethnic Albanians who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population of two million want independence.

Thaci has promised to declare independence as soon as possible after December 10th - the deadline set by the United Nations for conclusion of the talks.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, Reuters.