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Kosovo Elects First Ethnic Albanian President - 2002-03-04

Kosovo lawmakers have elected moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova as the first president of the internationally administered Serbian province. The 120-member Kosovo legislature also chose a moderate former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Bajram Rexhepi, as province prime minister.

Nearly three years after NATO forces ended a crackdown on Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian majority by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Kosovars have taken a major step toward self-rule.

The vote followed a power-sharing arrangement reached last week by the three major ethnic-Albanian parties, ending a deadlock that had lasted for months.

Mr. Rugova is a literary critic whose admirers call him "the Gandhi of the Balkans" for his non-violent resistance to the Serb and Yugoslav crackdown. He was elected president after three previous tries by legislators to create a new government.

Mr. Rugova received 88 out of 120 votes. Three deputies voted against him and 15 others abstained.

Most ethnic Albanians in Kosovo see the establishment of a new government as a step toward eventual independence for the province. But U.N. administrator Michael Steiner has the right to veto any decisions made by the Kosovo parliament. The assembly is not even allowed to discuss Kosovo's final status.

The international community has long said its goal is to build a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo. The province's Serbian minority wants it to remain part of Yugoslavia.

Mr. Rugova's party, the Democratic League of Kosovo, won 47 seats in last November's parliamentary election, not enough to govern alone. Under the arrangement last week, it will share power with two ethnic-Albanian parties led by former guerrillas, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo.

Prime Minister Rexhepi, a surgeon by training, was a field doctor with the guerrillas. After the Kosovo war, he became the de facto mayor of Mitrovica.

Mr. Rexhepi will head a 10-man government made up of representatives of all three ethnic Albanian parties, plus a member of the Serb minority and a minister from a coalition of non-Serb minorities.