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(Updates with election commission news conference)</p>PRISTINA
November 17 (SeeNews) - The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) headed by former ethnic Albanian guerrilla commander Hashim Thaci is leading in Saturday's elections for new local governments and a new parliament, which is expected to unilaterally declare the independence of the U.N.-run Serbian province next month, an exit poll indicated.
“The vote was fair and democratic,” the head of Kosovo’s central election commission (KQZ), Mazllum Bajraliu, told a news conference.
PDK, in opposition since 2004, has won 35% of the vote for members of Kosovo parliament based on exit polls conducted at about half of the polling stations in Kosovo, said Democracy in Action (DV), a coalition of 10 non-government organizations (NGOs) monitoring the elections.
The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the party of late Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova, which has ruled in the last four years in a coalition with the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), the party of former guerrilla commander Ramush Haradinaj, has won 23% of the vote for parliament, DV said. AAK has won 10% support.
The newly formed Alliance New Kosovo (AKR), a party set up by Kosovo businessman Behgjet Pacolli, has won 11% of the vote, the exit poll indicated.
“The overall turnover was between 40% and 45%,” the Chief of the U.N. Mission in Kosovo, Joachim Ruecker, told the same news conference. He added he expected the new Kosovo parliament to be formed by December 4. After that it has 30-day period to form a government.
The turnout, although lower in comparison with the previous general election held in 2004, was comparable with voters' participation in elections elsewhere in the world, Rucker said. In 2004, 53% of Kosovo ethnic Albanians voted in the general elections.
“The low turnout does not affect the legitimacy of the elections,” Bajraliu said.
Strong pressure from Belgrade was reflected in the the participation of Kosovo's Serbs in the elections, Ruecker said, referring to calls from Belgrade to Serbs in the province to boycott the vote on Saturday, just like they did in the previous two parliamentary elections held since the 1999 war. Ethnic Serbs make some 9% of the 2.1 million population of Kosovo.
Nearly 1.5 million eligible voters, including the Kosovo’s Serb minority were called to elect for 120 members of Kosovo parliament, prime minister and mayors. A hundred seats in parliament are for the ethnic Albanians, 10 for the Serbian and other 10 for other minorities in the province.
KQZ is expected to release preliminary results of the vote at the beginning of next week.
Since 1999, when NATO bombing forced ex-Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic to halt a crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians which Western powers said was leading to the repression of civilians, Kosovo has been under U.N. rule.
The ethnic Albanian majority insists on independence, while Serbia says it will not give more than broad autonomy.
On December 10, a so-called Troika of international mediators is due to present its proposals on Kosovo's future status to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders have said that if necessary they will unilaterally declare independence after this date.
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