December 8, 2014 / 9:54 AM / 3 years ago

Bitter rivals seal power-sharing deal in Kosovo

3 Min Read

PRISTINA (Reuters) - A former minister-in-exile during Kosovo's 1990s rebellion against Serbian rule was set to become the young state's new prime minister in a grand coalition of bitter political foes that ends six months of uncertainty.

A parliament session expected to confirm the appointment of Isa Mustafa at the helm of a new government dragged into Monday evening and the vote was postponed for Tuesday.

Mustafa, leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), will replace former guerrilla commander Hashim Thaci, whose Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) won a June election but fell short of a majority and was forced to negotiate with the LDK.

The two parties, Kosovo's biggest, are fierce rivals with a history of sometimes deadly competition for power since Kosovo broke away from Serbia in a 1998-99 war with the help of NATO air strikes.

Mustafa, a 63-year-old former mayor of the capital Pristina, will take on the task of consolidating Kosovo as an independent state, so far recognized by more than 100 countries but blocked from becoming a member of the United Nations by Serbian big-power ally Russia.

He inherits an economy that is growing but remains dependent on remittances from Kosovars working abroad and on foreign assistance.

Kosovo is struggling to attract outside investors wary of a reputation for crime and corruption. At least a third of the workforce is unemployed.

"The first pillar of the government will be economic development, new jobs and welfare," Mustafa told parliament following his nomination.

"Eradicating poverty will be this government's main objective," he said.

Denied a third consecutive term as prime minister, Thaci will become foreign minister in Mustafa's cabinet, and will take over as president of Kosovo in 2016 under the terms of the coalition deal signed with Mustafa earlier on Monday.

Mustafa was Kosovo's finance minister-in-exile in the 1990s, when the majority-Albanian territory was a southern province of Serbia and late LDK founder Ibrahim Rugova led a policy of passive resistance.

Rugova's policy was eventually eclipsed by a guerrilla insurgency co-led by Thaci. NATO intervened in 1999 with 11 weeks of air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces trying to crush the insurgency.

The immediate postwar period was marred by often deadly political score-settling.

Parliament on Monday elected Thaci's party deputy, Kadri Veseli, as speaker. Ex-guerrilla fighter Veseli is the former head of SHIK, a shadowy intelligence arm of the PDK that was officially disbanded when Kosovo declared independence.

Writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Ralph Boulton

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