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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 October, 2004, 00:53 GMT 01:53 UK
Dismay as Serbs shun Kosovo poll
Official in an empty voting station
Election officials in Serb areas had a very easy day
The UN's administrator in Kosovo has lamented outside interference after Serbs shunned elections there.

Reportedly fewer than 1% of eligible Serbs cast a vote in the second poll since the UN took over Kosovo in 1999.

UN governor Soren Jessen-Petersen said some had "had their democratic right to vote hijacked" through intimidation.

Most of Kosovo's vast majority of ethnic Albanians want independence for the province, which technically remains part of Serbia and Montenegro.

Total turnout in the poll was put at 53%, compared with 64% in 2001.

We haven't noticed that elections are being held today
Milan Ivanovic, Kosovo Serb politician

The Serbian Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, and church leaders called on Serbs to boycott the ballot because of security fears.

Tens of thousands of Kosovan Serbs who have fled the province since the war in 1998-99 were allowed to vote, as were those still in Kosovo.

Some said they were intimidated by their own people.

Asked by a Reuters reporter if he planned to vote, a Serb in the divided city of Mitrovica replied: "Are you joking? They'd knee-cap me."

Only 15 people were reported to have cast ballots there in eight hours.

"Obviously some decided not to vote and that's their democratic right," said Mr Jessen-Petersen.

"Others obviously have had their democratic right to vote hijacked, who may have wanted to vote but were afraid."

'Great date'

Security remains a major concern following riots in March which left 19 people dead and saw Serb houses and churches burned to the ground.

The violence highlighted the continuing tensions between the two communities and a deep frustration at the lack of any long-term political solution for the province.

Woman voting in Kosovo
Many Kosovo Albanians exercised their right to vote

Voting passed off peacefully, with only a few minor voting irregularities reported.

Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova, said the election was "a great and important date of the independence of Kosovo".

"I believe that all citizens will vote as these elections are important for the formal recognition of independence," he said after casting his vote.

Many Serbs were reported to have attended church services instead of going to vote.

"We haven't noticed that elections are being held today," said Milan Ivanovic, one of the Kosovo Serb politicians who led the boycott.

Election results are expected on Monday.

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