- The Washington Times - Monday, November 16, 2009

PRISTINA, Kosovo | Kosovo’s first elections since independence from Serbia ended peacefully Sunday, with some minority Serbs ignoring a call to boycott and casting ballots alongside ethnic Albanians.

The elections for city council and mayors in 36 municipalities were seen as a key test of the fledgling state’s viability after its contested February 2008 declaration of independence.

Though results were not expected for hours after polls closed,there was celebrating across Kosovo with people honking their car horns, waving party flags and setting off fire crackers.

No major instances of unrest or fraud allegations were reported, although the run-up had been marred by tensions between rival ethnic Albanian parties, as well as the possibility of a boycott from the Serbian minority. Stones were thrown Wednesday at Prime Minister Hashim Thaci’s convoy, and there was an apparent assassination attempt Thursday on an opposition mayoral candidate.

Mr. Thaci had urged the country’s 100,000 Serbs to ignore calls by Belgrade and the Serbian Orthodox Church to boycott the vote, calling it a key test for his new nation. So far, 63 countries have recognized Kosovo, including the United States and most European countries. Serbia has vowed to block further recognition and has Russia’s support.

“It’s great step for Kosovo,” Mr. Thaci told the Associated Press after voting in downtown Pristina, the capital, in the company of his wife and 10-year-old son.

“I’m sure we will have success and appreciate very much participation of all citizen, in particular Serbs of Kosovo,” he said.

More than 5,000 officers were on patrol during the vote, which was also the first organized by Kosovo officials. Previous elections were run by the United Nations, which took control of Kosovo in 1999 after NATO waged an air war to stop Serbian forces’ crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

“This is the best of democracy, and I will do my duty as a citizen,” said Zoje Bujupi, an ethnic Albanian.

The results of the council and mayoral races, run largely run on local issues, were unlikely to upset the country’s fragile political scene, as the ethnic Albanian leadership is eager to show it can handle its own affairs.

Election officials said 45 percent of the 1.5 million registered voters cast ballots, a slight increase from the 2007 election turnout when 40 percent voted. Kosovo’s first United Nations-run poll in 2000 saw an 80 percent turnout.

“We are very happy with the flow of these elections,” election official Nesrin Kumnova told reporters.

“We have no information of any big incidents that would damage the election.”

It was unclear how many of Sunday’s voters were Serbs, but some Serbs could be seen voting in areas surrounded by majority Albanians.

One Serb leader running for a mayoral seat ignored the call to boycott and cast his ballot in the Serbian enclave of Caglavica, just outside the capital, Pristina.

“This vote here shows that … the fear … is loosening its grip,” Momcilo Trajkovic said. He said the fact that Serbs were voting was a sign of better times for the minority population, which decreased by a third after the war ended in 1999 and many left to live in Serbia.

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