Moderate party wins Kosovo election, official results show

Associated Press WriterPRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) -- A moderate ethnic Albanian party won Kosovo's first free and democratic postwar elections, claiming the right to lead the province alongside the United Nations and NATO, election organizers said Monday.

Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo won just over 46 percent of the vote, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said. The win gave him a clear mandate to lead the province that is rebuilding after war and a decade of oppression under the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Though the win gave Rugova a clear mandate to govern, he lacked the overwhelming margin he would need to rule alone.

Rugova's party edged out former rebel leader Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, which finished with 25.5 percent of the vote. The margin of victory was far less than expected by Rugova's followers, who had claimed that Rugova would crush his opponents.

A coalition of parties representing Kosovo's minority Serbs finished third with just under 11 percent, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian party, followed with 7.8 percent of the vote.

After exit polls signaled his win, Rugova pledged Sunday that he would not rest until he had led Kosovo to independence.

Voters elected legislators to serve in a 120-seat assembly that in turn will choose a president and form a provincial administration.

The administrators will govern alongside U.N. officials and NATO-led peacekeepers who took control of the province after 78 days of NATO airstrikes. The alliance launched the air war to force Milosevic to end his crackdown on ethnic Albanian militants.

Ethnic Albanians mobbed polling stations Saturday to vote in a race many saw as giant leap toward independence -- a concept that frightened some minority Serbs into staying home. Many Serbs feared the election would further dilute the influence of the central government in Belgrade and push Kosovo further away from Yugoslavia.

The Kosovo Serb vote had been in doubt until the final hours of the ballot, when crowds suddenly rushed to the polls. Some apparently sought the cover of darkness, fearing they would face intimidation on their way to the polls.

Oliver Ivanovic, a moderate Kosovo Serb candidate from the ethnically divided northern city of Kosovska Mitrovica, said Monday he was "most satisfied" with election results and the unexpectedly large turnout of Kosovo Serbs.

Reflecting a deep division in the Serb community, however, hard-line Serbs decried the vote as a worthless failure.

"These elections were a sloppily written love story in which everyone is supposed to have a happy ending," said Marko Jaksic, a local Serb leader who had campaigned for a boycott of the vote.

Jaksic claimed that only one in 20 Serbs in Mitrovica bothered to show up at the polls, "proving what a huge failure the U.N. mission has been."

Dozens of Serbs have been killed in attacks leveled in revenge for Milosevic's crackdown, which killed at least 10,000 people. Tens of thousands of Serbs have fled the province since forces loyal to Milosevic were ousted after the NATO airstrikes.

Though the question of independence was not on the ballot, many ethnic Albanians saw the vote as step toward eventual sovereignty.

Rugova has done little to dispel the view, saying that the progress the province had made in the last two years combined with the peaceful vote suggested that Kosovo was ready to be forever free from Belgrade.

Other leaders also pledged to keep their eye on the prize. Thaci, in conceding defeat, promised to govern together with Rugova and all other parties, including those of other ethnic groups.

"The time has come to put the interests of Kosovo before the interests of the political parties," he said.