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Monday, 30 October, 2000, 18:41 GMT
Kosovo leader wants independence now
Ibrahim Rugova with Kosovo flag
Ibrahim Rugova's comeback is seen as a blow to the KLA
The moderate Kosovo Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, has demanded independence for the province as initial forecasts suggest that he has won a convincing victory in local elections.

"I ask Paris, London, Berlin and Washington to recognise the independence of Kosovo," Mr Rugova said.

He also stressed that he was also committed to co-operation with the Serb and other ethnic minorities in Kosovo, where the first official results from the elections are expected later on Monday.

elderly Kosovo voters in Kosovo Polje near Pristina
Ethnic Albanians flocked to polling stations, forming long queues

Preliminary results from an independent monitoring group, Kaci, suggest that Mr Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) won the overwhelming majority of seats in Saturday's election.

But the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) - headed by the former rebel commander, Hashim Thaci - has accused Mr Rugova and election officials of fraud.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) says it is investigating the allegations of fraud.

Comeback

If confirmed, an LDK victory would amount to a spectacular comeback for Mr Rugova.

The hardline leaders of the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) have dominated politics in the province since it came under UN administration, following Nato's bombing of Yugoslavia in June 1999.

Mr Rugova led a campaign of passive resistance to Belgrade in the decade before the KLA's armed revolt.

Hashim Thaci
Hashim Thaci: Kosovo will be independent soon
With more than half the votes counted, Mr Rugova said his party had won about 60% of local council seats.

Mr Thaci acknowledged that his PDK party lost in the provincial capital, Pristina.

The PDK is now accusing the LDK of intimidating its supporters and preventing others from voting.

It also says the polling staff employed by the UN have manipulated the vote.

A BBC correspondent in Pristina says that if Mr Rugova has won, it suggests that more people trust him to do business with the international community than the younger Mr Thaci.

US 'shift'

According to UK press reports, the United States may be ready to support full independence for Kosovo - a move that could create a serious rift with Washington's European allies.

A senior US Government official said the shift in policy was discussed in secret talks this month between the US special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, and US diplomats in the Balkans.

The official, who was not named, was quoted by the UK's Independent and Guardian newspapers on Monday.

UN resolution

UN Security Council resolution 1244, passed in June last year after the Kosovo war, states the "commitment of all member states to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY)".

Vojislav Kostunica
Vojislav Kostunica insists Kosovo remains part of Yugoslavia

So far the Western allies - including the US - have stressed that Kosovo's future must be decided in line with that resolution.

But according to the US official, the resolution "does not mean Kosovo cannot be independent".

"De facto independence is already a reality on the ground," he was quoted as saying.

In the local elections, the three main Kosovo Albanian parties all campaigned for independence from Yugoslavia.

Belgrade rejects elections

Yugoslavia has not recognised the local elections, which were boycotted by almost all the Serbs in Kosovo.

The new Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, said the election results would "significantly contribute to the legalisation of a mono-ethnic society" in Kosovo.

"All this makes it impossible for the FRY to recognise the results of the local elections."

International officials say they plan to appoint local representatives on behalf of the Serbs.

The final list of winners of the 920 seats on 30 municipal councils will not be ready for at least a week, election officials say.

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See also:

21 Mar 00 | Europe
Nato chief seeks Kosovo tolerance
05 Feb 00 | Europe
Spotlight on UN's Kosovo task
21 Sep 00 | Europe
The Kosovo factor
30 Oct 00 | Europe
Profile: Ibrahim Rugova
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