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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 16:23 GMT
Kosovo launches historic parliament
Ibrahim Rugova of Democratic League of Kosovo
Moderate Ibrahim Rugova hopes to become president
Kosovo's first multi-ethnic parliamentary assembly since the province came under international administration in 1999 has opened its inaugural session, following elections last month.

The session was opened by the United Nations special representative, Hans Haekkerup, inviting nominations for the seven-member presidency of the assembly.

This is a day of hope but also an occasion for reflection and renewed resolve

UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan
But minutes after it started, members of the former Kosovo Liberation Army staged a brief walkout, after their leader, Hashim Thaci, was denied the floor.

Remaining members then elected five members of the presidency and a speaker, Nexhat Daci, a member of the party of moderate Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, the LDK, which emerged as the strongest political force in Kosovo after the poll.

It has taken Kosovo two-and-a-half years to reach the point where it is ready to take over the running of its own day-to-day affairs from the United Nations.

Hope or disaster

Opening the session as temporary chairman, Mr Haekkerup spoke of "a historical day for Kosovo". He urged the deputies to assume "a very demanding task, taking decisions that will influence the life of each and every citizen in Kosovo".

Assembly powers
Economic and financial policy
Fiscal and budgetary issues
Social welfare
Organisation of judicial system
Transport and communications
Sport and culture

Then deputies heard a message from the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, urging them to overcome the legacy of the past and establishing "a political culture of tolerance, mutual respect and constructive compromise".

But the BBC's Paul Anderson says it was a disastrous start as Mr Thaci and his deputies walked out of the session.

Mr Thaci was protesting for not being allowed to take the floor to make a political statement.

International officials said they wanted to keep to the order of the day - the election of the assembly's presidency.

Mr Thaci argued that the presidency should wait until a deal was reached on a president of Kosovo, a prime minister and a cabinet.

A deal would pave the way for Mr Rugova to become Kosovo president.

Mr Thaci's deputies returned after the vote and the session was adjourned.

Experts see the new assembly as a severe test of whether Kosovo politicians are willing to set aside years of hatred and co-operate on basic issues like the economy and the environment.

Divided population

The devolved administration in Kosovo will, for the first time since 1999, give local Serbs a real say in the administration of the province.

They will have more than a sixth of the assembly's seats, way over their proportion of the population.

Although local leaders are increasingly to begin exercising real power in the province, many feel devolution does not go far enough.

UN powers
Dissolving the assembly
Calling new elections
Budget approval
External relations
Overseeing judiciary
Civil emergencies

The 120 deputies know the UN will still retain the final say on the most contentious policy issues.

Albanian leaders in particular will be held against their pre-election promises that the new assembly is to set Kosovo on the road to eventual independence.

But that is bitterly opposed by the Serbs and at this stage by the international community.

With such divisions, diplomats and politicians say the assembly has a hard task ahead of it.

"The road to parliamentary democracy in Kosovo will be strewn with thorns," said Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic, one of the reformers who ousted former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic last year.

The BBC's Paul Anderson
"A security operation was mounted... to ensure a trouble free start"
See also:

04 Feb 00 | Europe
Analysis: Protecting the Serbs
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