02 February 2006

Rugova death leaves Kosovo leadership vacuum

AFP, 21/01/2006 14h15


PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro (AFP) - The death of Ibrahim Rugova has opened the difficult issue of finding a replacement capable of filling the void left by the Kosovo president.


Rugova's disappearance from the political scene comes at a crucial time for disputed Kosovo's Albanian majority as they prepare for crucial talks on the future status of the UN-run Serbian territory.


Many analysts believe none of Rugova's likely successors possess enough of the diplomatic acumen that he had on the world stage in the ethnic Albanian push for independence from Serbia.


Rugova's death Saturday would make "the situation more fragile because the other leaders ... have no support from their parties to take the president's throne," local political analyst Nexhmedin Spahiu told AFP recently.


Within the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) party, which he founded and led with authority for 15 years, Rugova declined to earmark or prepare anyone to take over from him.


But one of the few LDK members to have survived a series of defections and resignations because of Rugova's leadership style is the current president of the parliament, Nexhat Daci.


The 61-year-old, who was born in southern Serbia's Presevo valley, appears certain to be among the candidates to succeed Rugova, but his political experience seems insufficient while his critics reproach him for not originating from Kosovo.


Far more charismatic than Daci however is 37-year-old Hashim Thaci, a former chief of the Albanian guerrillas that took on the forces of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in Kosovo's 1998-1999 war.


Considered one of the more serious candidates to take over from Rugova, Thaci appeared on the public stage as the head of the Kosovo Liberation Army during the conflict.


He has since used his popularity as a war hero among Albanians to reinvent himself as a politician, but his chances of becoming president seem limited by possible charges of war crimes being levelled against him by Serbian authorities.


Rugova's job could also go to businessman and former journalist Veton Surroi, who the analyst Spahiu says is the only contender with full backing from his own party.


The 43-year-old, who owns Koha Ditore newspaper and KTV television network, has for years been a vicious critic of Belgrade-backed repression, as well as that for which his fellow Albanians were responsible.


A philosophy graduate and son of a former Yugoslav diplomat, Surroi recently launched into politics by founding his own party, ORA, with the objective of uniting Kosovo's fragmented political scene.


Kosovo's current prime minister, Bajram Kosumi, is a 45-year-old and the number two in the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo party who is also expected to stake a claim for the presidential role.


Kosumi made his career in the shade of Ramush Haradinaj, whom he replaced as premier when his predecessor was accused of war crimes by the UN war crimes tribunal based in The Hague, Netherlands.