Democratic League of Kosovo nominates candidate for president

Kosovo's largest party on Tuesday nominated its secretary-general to become the province's president, a position left vacant with the death of pro-independence leader Ibrahim Rugova. The governing Democratic League of Kosovo said it nominated Fatmir Sejdiu for the post following two weeks of mourning for Rugova, who died from lung cancer last month.

"It's a unanimous decision," said Kole Berisha, a senior party official, after a meeting of the party's leadership. Kosovo's parliament will vote on the new president on Monday. Sejdiu is the only nominee and it was unclear if the opposition would name someone to oppose him.

Western officials, keen to resolve the status of the disputed province this year, have put pressure on local officials to move fast to fill the leadership vacuum, fearing a political crisis would delay that process. Sejdiu, 54, is considered a moderate in the province's largest party. He has held different party positions since the early 1990s and served as a member of Kosovo's parliament since 2001. He holds a law doctorate and is a professor at Pristina University.

If approved by the province's 120-seat parliament, Sejdiu will replace Rugova, the leader who dominated the province's politics for 16 years and epitomized ethnic Albanians' quest for the province's independence from Serbia. "We persist in that vision and the approach that he had for Kosovo independence, democracy and the future," Sejdiu said after his nomination.

The post of Kosovo's president is largely ceremonial, but it recently became crucial with Rugova leading the team that is to negotiate in U.N.-mediated talks with Serb officials on whether Kosovo becomes independent or remains linked to Serbia. Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since NATO launched a bombing campaign to end a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian rebel separatists in 1999.

Talks between Kosovo and Serbia on the province's future were set to begin last month, but due to Rugova's death they have been postponed until February, interrupting a delicate process aimed at closing one of the final chapters from the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The discussions are now expected to start around Feb. 20 in Vienna, the Austrian capital. The first round of negotiations will deal with the reform of local government aimed at giving Serbs and other minorities greater say in areas where they live. Western diplomats have recently signaled that Kosovo's quest for independence from Serbia is conditional on it becoming a democracy that respects the minority rights, reports the AP.