Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova escaped unhurt from an assassination attempt in Pristina early today. The attack comes at a time of political tension in the capital of the UN-administered Serbian province.
Prague, 15 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The failed assassination attempt occurred as the Kosovar president was traveling to a meeting with visiting European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Police say a bomb in a roadside garbage can in central Pristina was detonated by remote control at the moment President Ibrahim Rugova's motorcade was passing by.
The ethnic Albanian president was not hurt. He was transferred to another vehicle that carried him on to his meeting with Solana, where the two discussed the formation of a new Kosovo government.
Rugova told journalists later that he thinks the attack was carried out by "elements who want to destabilize Kosova."
"As the president, I condemn this act. The people who do things like this should be stopped, and they must be punished. We cannot allow such things that endanger the lives of the citizens of Kosovo," Rugova said.
Shrapnel from the blast shattered a rear window on the passenger side of Rugova's vehicle. It also blew out the right rear tire and damaged the car's rear end.
Windows of nearby shops also were shattered. Police say at least one person was injured by shards of glass.
The attempt on Rugova's life comes at a time of political tension in Kosovo. Political leaders in the UN-administered Serbian province are trying to form a new government following the resignation last week of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj.
Haradinaj has since traveled to The Hague, where he faces charges before an international war crimes tribunal.
The outcome of the Kosovo government talks will pave the way for Rugova to nominate a new prime minister, who will then have to be approved by parliament. Rugova stressed after today's attack that he remains committed to that process:
"According to our constitution, I will consult with other political parties and I will appoint, in time, a new prime minister of Kosovo," Rugova said.
Despite the attack against Rugova, Solana today praised the Kosovar leader and the political "maturity" of Kosovars as they move toward the creation of a new government.
"I want to tell him that he has, in this, the support of the European Union. And something that to our mind is very, very important now is that all the Kosovars have a sense of communality," Solana said.
Rugova was elected Kosovo's president in 2002. He was reelected in December when his party formed a coalition with Haradinaj's much smaller Alliance for the Future of Kosova.
Haradinaj resigned and traveled voluntarily to The Hague after the UN war crimes tribunal indicted him for alleged atrocities committed against Serbian and Romany civilians during Kosovo's 1998-1999 war. Yesterday, Haradinaj pleaded not guilty to 37 counts of war crimes.
(RFE/RL's Albanian-language unit contributed to this report.)