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Page last updated at 23:48 GMT, Sunday, 15 November 2009

Kosovo PM claims election victory

PM Hashim Thaci votes in Pristina
PM Thaci's ruling PDK coalition has claimed a "convincing" victory

The people of Kosovo have voted in local elections - the first poll since the territory declared independence from Serbia last year.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's ruling PDK coalition has claimed a "convincing" victory, but official results are due in the next few hours.

Voting passed off calmly, with turnout among minority Serbs thought to be higher than expected in some areas.

Election authorities put the overall turnout at about 45%.

"I am very pleased to announce... that the Democratic Party of Kosovo is the convincing winner of these elections," the party's deputy chairman, Hajredin Kuci said in a news conference broadcast live by public RTK TV.

Observers are expected to announce on Monday if the vote met international standards - a crucial goal in Kosovo's search for wider recognition.

The Kosovo government had been keen to ensure a free and fair election in which both the majority Albanians and the Serb minority take part.

Security was tight, especially in Serb areas where some say they fear attacks by other Serbs if they vote.

Accountability

Earlier, PM Thaci said the vote was "the most important since the proclamation of independence".

"We today confirm that our country has deserved to be independent and to have a European perspective," Mr Thaci said after casting his ballot in the capital, Pristina.

We believe it is the lesser of two evils to participate in the elections
Momcilo Trajkovic
Kosovo Serb leader

Zoja Bujupi, a Kosovo Albanian, said she was voting "for the good of our state, for the good of all of us".

The BBC's Mark Lowen says most of the 120,000-strong minority Serb population still opposes Kosovo's independence.

Serbia had urged Kosovo Serbs not to take part in the poll, for fear of legitimising Kosovo's independence, but some local Serb politicians said people should ignore that call.

Momcilo Trajkovic, who is running for mayor in the Gracanica enclave near Pristina, said the vote represented "a crossroads for Kosovo Serbs".

"We believe it is the lesser of two evils to participate in the elections, and it is possible this lesser evil can be turned into something good," Mr Trajkovic, leader of the Serbian Resistance Movement, said according to AFP news agency.

Meanwhile there was a call for a boycott on the other side of the ethnic divide.

One Albanian opposition group is discouraging people from voting, because they say the election gives too much power to the municipalities, some of which might end up controlled by Serbs.

Ten years on from Kosovo's brutal war, reconciliation between the two communities is slow, says our correspondent.

If this election is deemed free and fair, it may increase the chance of more states recognising an independent Kosovo, our correspondent says.

Kosovo has so far been recognised by 63 out of 192 UN members. Thousands of Nato peacekeepers are still stationed there.



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