poljska sabor.jpg
Photograph: EPA/PAWEL SUPERNAK

The Kosovo parliament convened Friday to elect a new president amid heavy security and worries about violence, local media reported.

Hashim Thaci, the former longtime premier and now foreign minister, is the clear favourite to become the new president. Kosovo elects its head of state indirectly, in parliament.

The session began an hour late, at noon (1100 GMT), as several opposition lawmakers were expelled from the parliament on suspicion of carrying tear-gas canisters, the Koha.net news portal reported.

The opposition, which since October has routinely disrupted the work of parliament with violence, including tear-gas attacks, vowed to fight the election.

Outside, a massive police force surrounded the parliament building as a crowd of pro-opposition demonstrators gathered not far away.

Thaci leads the Democratic Party, the junior partner of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa's Democratic League.

If the parliament fails to elect a president by March 7 in three attempts, it will have to be dissolved, paving the way for early elections. Elections are regularly due in 2018.

Snap polls is what the opposition is pushing for, seeking to topple the Mustafa-Thaci coalition and block the implementation of an agreement with Serbia on expanded autonomy for Serb-majority municipalities in the mostly Albanian Kosovo.

The deal was brokered by the European Union as part of normalization talks between Serbia and Kosovo, its breakaway former province which declared independence in 2008.

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