Thaci elected president of Kosovo amid opposition violence

Kosovo's parliament on Friday elected Hashim Thaci as the country's new president, in a session interrupted by opposition tear gas attacks and as anti-government protests in the streets turned violent.

Thaci prevailed after securing 71 ballots in the third-round of voting, in which 60 votes were needed to win. The two previous rounds on Friday failed to garner the necessary majority. 

The opposition walked out before the first vote. Security also expelled seven lawmakers for releasing tear gas, forcing the parliament to break off twice.

The opposition, which has fired tear gas in parliament several times since October, accuses Thaci of corruption and promises to continue protesting and demanding snap polls, ahead of their regular date in 2018.

As the voting took place, a crowd of protesters outside began hurling rocks and firebombs at police, who responded with tear gas and water cannon, local media reported. At least 12 people were injured, 11 of them police officers.

Apparently concerned that a confrontation between rival groups may spark more violence, Thaci called on his supporters to celebrate his election victory at their homes, but a crowd nevertheless gathered in the capital Pristina.

Thaci was prime minister from 2008 to 2014 and currently serves as foreign minister and leads the Democratic Party, the junior partner of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa's Democratic League.

Led by the nationalist Vetevendosje movement, the opposition wants to block the implementation of an agreement with Serbia on expanded autonomy for Serb-majority municipalities in mostly ethnic Albanian Kosovo.

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

Nine years earlier, in 1999, NATO intervened against Serbia to force the withdrawal of its armed forces from Kosovo and end a lopsided war against Albanian rebels and a brutal crackdown on the Albanian population.

The head of the EU office in Pristina, Samuel Zbogar, warned Friday that political stability is crucial the success of the agreement, which foresees closer ties with the European Union.

"Kosovo reached a stage where it must prove that it can deal with these issues," Zbogar said. "The government and opposition must find a way to ... engage in a political dialogue."

US ambassador to Pristina, Greg Delawie, said the opposition was "interrupting a democratic process."

Last update: Fri, 26/02/2016 - 22:22
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