PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo’s Parliament failed to elect a new president in the first round of voting Friday.
The main contender, Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci, got only 50 votes among the 81 lawmakers that were present. His opponent Rafet Rama, also from the Democratic Party of Kosovo, won 4 votes and 27 other votes were declared invalid.
A candidate would need at least 80 votes in either of the first two voting sessions or 61 in the third to win. Without such support, Parliament will be dissolved and new elections held within 45 days.
The voting in the 120-seat Parliament was held without opposition lawmakers, many of whom were forced out before or suspended from participation after disrupting the work with tear gas.
Many leading figures within the opposition were partners with Thaci — a former guerrilla leader — during the war, but later turned against him, accusing him of being power-hungry and corrupt. Critics also say Thaci, who led the fighters of Kosovo’s successful separatist war against Serbia in 1998-99, is not a unifying individual, which is what the Kosovo constitution requires.
The prospect of a Thaci-presidency has prompted thousands to protest in the capital of Pristina, many hundreds of whom have been camping out in tents in the capital’s Skanderbeg Square.
On Friday, opposition supporters threw Molotov cocktails and rocks outside Parliament. Police responded with tear gas and water guns to disperse them and some protesters were arrested.
U.S. Ambassador to Pristina Greg Delawie deplored that the opposition “once again used violence to disrupt the democratic process in Kosovo” and repeated his support for Kosovo’s people and institutions.
Since last September, the chamber has witnessed attacks involving tear gas, pepper spray, whistles and water bottles as opposition forces reject a deal between Kosovo and Serbia giving more powers to ethnic Serbs in Kosovo. The opposition also rejects a border demarcation pact with Montenegro.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, although that is rejected by Serbia.
As president, Thaci would deal with a special war crimes court created last year, which will have international judges and prosecutors try ethnic Albanian guerrillas for the alleged killing of civilian detainees, mostly Serbs, immediately after the war ended in 1999.
Thaci was mentioned in a 2010 Council of Europe report which claimed that leaders of the now disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanians suspected of collaborating with Serbs.
Thaci denies the claims.
Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to remove reference to the opposition boycotting the vote.
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