December 9, 2014 / 2:13 PM / in 3 years

Kosovo lawmakers endorse former exile to lead coalition of rivals

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Lawmakers in Kosovo endorsed former minister-in-exile Isa Mustafa as prime minister on Tuesday, tasking him with consolidating the young Balkan nation’s independence and attracting foreign investors.

Leader of the biggest opposition party Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Isa Mustafa attends an election rally in the western Kosovo town of Peja June 1, 2014. REUTERS/Hazir Reka

Mustafa, 63, becomes Kosovo’s second prime minister since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008, replacing former guerrilla commander Hashim Thaci, who becomes foreign minister.

Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) won a parliamentary election in June but fell short of a majority and was forced to negotiate with Mustafa’s second-placed Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).

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

Mustafa, a former mayor of Pristina, was endorsed by 73 votes in the 120-seat parliament, ending six months of wrangling since the inconclusive election.

Kosovo has been recognized by more than 100 countries but is blocked from becoming a member of the United Nations by the veto of Russia, Serbia’s big-power ally. Its economy is expected to grow by more than 4 percent next year, but remains dependent on remittances from Kosovars working abroad and on foreign assistance.

It has struggled to shake a reputation for organized crime and high-level corruption that has deterred major foreign investment. At least a third of the workforce is unemployed.

Mustafa was Kosovo’s finance minister-in-exile in the 1990s, when Kosovo was a southern province of Serbia and late LDK founder Ibrahim Rugova led a policy of passive resistance, later eclipsed by guerrillas co-led by Thaci.

Denied a third consecutive term as prime minister, Thaci will take over as president of Kosovo in 2016 under the terms of the coalition deal signed on Monday.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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