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Kosovo President says he is not stepping down

PRISTINA, Mar 30 – Kosovo President Behgjet Pacolli said on Thursday that he is not stepping down despite a court ruling that his election by parliament was unconstitutional.

"There is no need to resign," Pacolli told local Radio Dukagjini, as the government scrambled to avoid snap elections.

The constitutional court ruling announced Monday plunged Kosovo into another political crisis just months after the previous polls in the breakaway former Serbian province.

While it remains unclear what will happen next as this is the first time such a situation has occurred in Kosovo which only declared independence in 2008, the government is trying to organise a re-vote for the presidency.

Prime minister Hashim Thaci on Wednesday put the ball in the parliament\’s court, saying he hoped the assembly "will find a quick constitutional solution" for the problem.

While his party insists Pacolli will run again for president he himself was more cautious.

"It is not sure that I will be a candidate again, it is up to the coalition and if the coalition decides I will consider it," Pacolli said.

According to media reports he has not exercised his duties since the court published its decision concluding that his election is "no longer in force".

The judges said at least two-thirds of the members of parliament had to be present for the February vote, which was boycotted by the opposition, and there should have been at least two candidates.

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Parliament was due to meet Thursday to approve the 2011 budget but as topics for debate must be submitted three days in advance the assembly was not likely to discuss the current political crisis stemming from the court verdict.

Observers say Thaci\’s government is buying time in order to avoid having to call new parliamentary polls but many believe they are inevitable as there is little support for Pacolli\’s re-election as president.

The opposition has widely denounced Thaci for pressuring the parliament into voting in Pacolli the first time around, when he won with a slight majority of 62 votes of the 120 members after three rounds of voting.

"We consider that Hashim Thaci bears the main responsibility and is the main culprit for the created situation and the violations of the constitution. He created a difficult situation in the parliament by pressuring the members," Burim Ramadani, a lawmaker from the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), said.

To try to cling to power Thaci could propose another presidential candidate to woo the opposition but that could cost him Pacolli\’s party as a coalition partner.

Meanwhile the opposition can aggressively push for new elections, refusing to back any of Thaci\’s candidates.

Given the results of the last elections in December — Kosovo\’s first since declaring independence from Serbia in 2008 — no party is likely to win an outright majority, leading to more months of difficult coalition talks.

Thaci\’s position has significantly weakened since the last elections after the Council of Europe adopted a report linking him and other high ranking former Kosovo Liberation Army leaders to organ trafficking and organised crime in the aftermath of the 1999 war.

The report has tarnished his reputation internationally, with a likely knock-on effect as many Kosovans saw Thaci as the only politician capable of dealing effectively with the international community.

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Kosovo has been in political turmoil since last September when the previous president Fatmir Sejdiu suddenly resigned after the same court ruled he had violated the constitution by occupying the presidency and heading a political party at the same time.

The resignation led to the fall of the government and early elections in December, marred by a number of irregularities.


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