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For Haradinaj’s Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, which has been in decline since his trial, the return could herald a new era.

“We do hope that he will take a lot of opportunities and a lot of management in the state because we see that Kosovo has huge challenges ahead and therefore he has a role to play,” said Besnik Tahiri, an official in Haradinaj’s AAK party. “Hopefully he will continue where he was when he left (as PM) in 2005.”

Serbian officials and media had been anticipating for days that Haradinaj would be acquitted less than two weeks after two Croatian generals were cleared of charges of killing and deporting Serbs in a 1995 military blitz, a judgment that sparked rage in Belgrade, where many see the tribunal as anti-Serb.

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said before Thursday’s announcement that Haradinaj’s acquittal would have serious consequences for the EU-brokered negotiations between him and his Kosovo counterpart Thaci. But Dacic suggested that Serbia would not pull out of the talks that are expected to resume in early December.

“There are enough reasons to delay or cancel all that, but what would we gain? Nothing.” Dacic has said. “We are not participating in the talks as a favor to someone, we are doing it for ourselves.”

Serbia’s government spokesman Milivoje Mihajlovic called the verdicts “another heavy blow for justice, dialogue and reconciliation in the region,” and predicted they would trigger a storm of discontent among Serbs, particularly those in Kosovo.

“Haradinaj’s acquittal means an amnesty for crimes against Serbs,” he said.

Belgrade’s liberal radio and TV station B-92 carried the headline, “A fresh slap in the face: Haradinaj freed.”

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Associated Press writers Nebi Qena in Pristina, Kosovo, and Jovana Gec and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.