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article image'Rambo' ex-guerrilla Haradinaj chosen to become Kosovo PM

By Ismet HAJDARI (AFP)     Sep 7, 2017 in World

Kosovo's president on Thursday picked former rebel fighter Ramush Haradinaj to form a new government, following three months of political stalemate since elections in June.

"Through a decree I have appointed Mr Ramush Haradinaj," President Hashim Thaci announced on his Facebook page.

Haradinaj belongs to the so-called "war wing" coalition, comprising the old guard of ex-guerrilla fighters, who won the most votes in the June 11 election but did not secure the majority needed to govern alone.

For months the alliance -- led by Thaci's PDK party -- has blocked the election of a speaker in parliament and thereby prevented the formation of a new government.

But the vote finally went ahead on Thursday after the "war wing" rallied the support of a smaller party, paving the way for the prime minister-designate announcement.

Haradinaj, whose appointment must now be endorsed by parliament, was a commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) of pro-independence ethnic Albanian rebels who fought Serbian forces in the 1998-1999 conflict.

He went on to become Kosovo's prime minister in 2004 but resigned soon after when he was indicted for war crimes by a UN tribunal in The Hague, which has twice acquitted him.

Nicknamed "Rambo" by his comrades-in-arms for his muscular physique and military prowess, the 49-year-old is considered a hero by many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo but is seen as a war criminal by Serbs.

The June election came just weeks after his release from France, where he had been held for four months on the basis of a Serbian arrest warrant over alleged war crimes. French judicial authorities eventually rejected Belgrade's extradition request.

- Challenging talks -

Once in place his government will face the task of restarting stalled negotiations with Belgrade to "normalise" relations, an EU-brokered process that began in 2011.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move since recognised by more than 110 countries but not by Belgrade or Moscow.

Haradinaj has previously said he wants recognition from Serbia before moving forward with the talks and one of his major election promises was that "Serbia will no longer have a role in Kosovo".

But analyst Behlul Beqaj said Haradinaj was "not in the position to give up or postpone" the dialogue, which is a prerequisite to both sides joining the European Union.

Haradinaj will also be confronted with high unemployment and poverty levels in the country of 1.8 million people, which has seen a mass exodus of citizens seeking work and better lives in western Europe.

"We must not allow citizens to lose hope and seek salvation in emigration," he told reporters after Thaci's announcement.

"I appeal to them and say that the solution to their concerns will be found in the country. We are ready for the challenges ahead."


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