Source AP ©

Serb leader criticizes Kosovo election boycott

A Serb leader in Kosovo criticized the decision to boycott elections in the province. He said that it would make things worse for the beleaguered minority.

A party led by Hashim Thaci, a former ethnic Albanian rebel who fought Serb troops during the 1998-99 war and whom Serbia accuses of war crimes, won most votes in Saturday's balloting, according to unofficial results.

Oliver Ivanovic, a prominent Serb leader in Kosovo, criticized Serbian authorities in Belgrade for calling the boycott, as in past elections, saying they will now have no elected representatives in local institutions.

"Who will now take care of the Serb interests?" Ivanovic asked. "What do these (Serb) people have to hope for?"

The Council of Europe said it was troubled by the low voter turnout of 43 percent. But Serbia's President Boris Tadic said that Serb boycott was "expected," adding that "these are hard times ... and in a state of tensions there is no right solution."

Serbia has refused to let go of the contested province, offering a high-level autonomy, which is rejected by Albanians.

Internationally brokered talks will continue Tuesday to try to decide if Kosovo should become independent or remain, at least formally, part of Serbia.

Tadic said Serbia "does not accept the creation of another independent state on its territory."

The long-standing dispute led to a war in 1998, triggering a NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, which ended the armed conflict and established an international presence in the province.

Two thirds of Kosovo's Serb population left after the war, while the 100,000 that still remain live in isolated enclaves guarded by NATO troops and facing threats from extremists.

Most Kosovo Serb leaders and the Belgrade authorities have said that there was no point in taking part in the elections in Kosovo until the Serb position improves.

International officials in Kosovo and the U.S. criticized the Serb boycott.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said Monday that Kosovo's weekend elections "affirmed the desire of Kosovo's people for independence."

Independent observers Sunday said unofficial vote tallies from Saturday's parliamentary elections gave ex-rebel Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo the lead with 34 percent of the vote.

The League of Democratic Kosovo, or LDK traditionally the province's largest political bloc trailed with 22 percent.

A senior official in Thaci's party told The Associated Press that a coalition with the late President Ibrahim Rugova's LDK was the most likely outcome although an uneasy one because of a rivalry between the two parties. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue.

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