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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 January 2006, 19:40 GMT
Kosovo mourns death of president
A cemetery worker prepares the family grave of Kosovan President Ibrahim Rugova
Ibrahim Rugova will be buried in his family grave on Thursday
Kosovo Albanians have been mourning the death of President Ibrahim Rugova, and beginning the search for a successor.

Mourners lined up outside Mr Rugova's hillside villa, after his death on Saturday from lung cancer, aged 61.

Kosovo's parliament held a special session to pay its respects on Sunday, while 15 days of mourning have begun.

Mr Rugova's death came as negotiations on the future of Kosovo were about to begin. They have been delayed from this week until February.

Ethnic Albanians who make up 90% of the population of Kosovo hope the talks will lead to full independence from Serbia - an outcome opposed by Belgrade.

Moderating force

The head of the United Nations mission administering Kosovo appealed for unity.

"Rugova has been the defining element of politics in Kosovo for so long that it is hard for us to imagine Kosovo, and Kosovan politics, without him," Soren Jessen-Petersen told the parliament in Pristina.

Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova
Rugova died shortly before crucial independence talks

International leaders have paid tribute to the late president as a moderating force, and vowed to continue his work for a stable future for the province.

Mr Rugova's body will be moved to the hall of Kosovo's parliament building, where it is to lie in state for three days, with citizens able to pay their respects.

Parliament has three months to vote in a new president.

The head of parliament, Nexhat Daci, is expected to be named acting president in the meantime.

He paid tribute to the man who has been a political icon for the past 15 years, saying: "His life and work are the immovable foundation of an independent and sovereign Kosovo."

He carried his battle with cancer with great dignity and courage until his last breath
Muhamet Hamiti,
spokesman

He acknowledged that Mr Rugova's death "is the most difficult moment for the people, the institutions and the international community in Kosovo".

Mr Rugova, a chain-smoker, died at his home in the Kosovo capital on Saturday, after being officially diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2005.

People gathered in the towns and cities of Kosovo on Saturday night to light candles in tribute.

There is no obvious successor to head the Kosovo Albanian negotiating team, and Serb leaders expressed concern more hardline elements of the ethnic Albanian community might gain greater power.

Sandra Raskovic-Ivic, the Serbian government representative for Kosovo, said: "I am worried if someone from that echelon takes his place, somebody who would incite unrest and violence to achieve independence."


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See people paying tribute to Ibrahim Rugova




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