Kosovo calls early polls for Feb. 13

by Reuters
Friday, 15 October 2010 05:44 GMT

* Early elections will delay talks with Serbia

* May halt privatisation of key state companies

(Adds byline, analyst, more background)

By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Kosovo will hold early parliamentary elections on Feb. 13 and will put off European Union-sponsored talks with Serbia for several months, the acting president said on Friday.

Jakup Krasniqi, caretaker president since Fatmir Sejdiu resigned in September, announced the date after meeting all the major political parties in the former Serbian province, which declared independence in 2008.

"Elections for the parliament of Kosovo will be held on February 13, 2011," Krasniqi told journalists. The elections had been scheduled for November 2011.

Krasniqi said the country needed stable institutions for a dialogue with Serbia which could be put off until a new government was formed. The European Union and the United States had hoped the talks would begin this year.

"My opinion is that the talks should be held in another atmosphere and not in this atmosphere that we have now," Krasniqi said.

Sejdiu's resignation has led to a worsening of relations between the two main ruling parties, Sejdiu's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).

Serbia, which does not recognise Kosovo's independence, agreed last month to hold talks with Pristina after it was told its hardline stance on its former province could halt its progress towards EU membership.

Kosovo, the youngest and one of the poorest countries in Europe, needs foreign investment to reduce an unemployment rate of more than 45 percent.

It had planned to privatise the state-owned telecoms firm and choose a company to build a badly needed coal-fired power plant this year.

Rising tension between the two main coalition partners after the president's resignation and preparations for early elections had cast doubt on both projects.

"This parliament as it is now cannot approve the privatisation strategies for key economic projects," said Krenar Gashi, research director of Kosovo's leading think tank KIPRED.

"The current governing coalition has no legitimacy to proceed with the negotiations with Belgrade and not even to initiate them."

Serbia lost control of Kosovo in 1999 after NATO carried out a bombing campaign to halt Serbia's killing of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in a two-year counter-insurgency war.

Nine years after the bombing, the Kosovo Albanians, 90 percent of Kosovo's population, declared independence, backed by a majority of EU countries and the United States.

Kosovo is recognised by 70 countries. (Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; editing by Ivana Sekularac and Tim Pearce)

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