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Former Minister-in-exile to Lead Coalition of Rivals in Kosovo

  • Reuters

Isa Mustafa of the Democratic League of Kosovo speaks to reporters after signing a coalition agreement with the Democratic Party of Kosovo to form the next government in Pristina, Dec. 8, 2014.

Isa Mustafa of the Democratic League of Kosovo speaks to reporters after signing a coalition agreement with the Democratic Party of Kosovo to form the next government in Pristina, Dec. 8, 2014.

Lawmakers in Kosovo endorsed former minister-in-exile Isa Mustafa as prime minister Tuesday, tasking him with consolidating the young Balkan nation's independence and attracting foreign investors.

Mustafa, 63, becomes Kosovo's second prime minister since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008, replacing former guerrilla commander Hashim Thaci, who becomes foreign minister.

Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) won a parliamentary election in June but fell short of a majority and was forced to negotiate with Mustafa's second-place Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).

The two parties, Kosovo's biggest, are fierce rivals with a history of sometimes deadly competition for power since the majority-Albanian territory broke away from Serbia in a 1998-99 war with the help of NATO airstrikes.

Mustafa, a former mayor of Pristina, was endorsed by 73 votes in the 120-seat parliament, ending six months of wrangling since the inconclusive election.

Kosovo has been recognized by more than 100 countries but is blocked from becoming a member of the United Nations by the veto of Russia, Serbia's big-power ally. Its economy is expected to grow by more than 4 percent next year but remains dependent on remittances from Kosovars working abroad and on foreign assistance.

It has struggled to shake a reputation for organized crime and high-level corruption that has deterred major foreign investment. At least a third of the workforce is unemployed.

"The first pillar of the government will be economic development, new jobs and welfare," Mustafa told parliament following his nomination. "Eradicating poverty will be this government's main objective."

Mustafa was Kosovo's finance minister-in-exile in the 1990s, when Kosovo was a southern province of Serbia and late LDK founder Ibrahim Rugova led a policy of passive resistance, later eclipsed by guerrillas co-led by Thaci.

Denied a third consecutive term as prime minister, Thaci will take over as president of Kosovo in 2016 under the terms of the coalition deal signed Monday.

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