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Yugoslavia: Legislative Troubles Mar Inaugural Session Of Kosovo Parliament

Kosovo's new multiethnic assembly held its inaugural session yesterday, only to see a walkout by the second-largest party, Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), and the delay of a presidential election. Somewhat surprisingly, the Serb deputies, who enjoy Belgrade's backing, chose not to boycott the opening session. Meanwhile, the dispute between Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the other 17 parties in the ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) is ratcheting up as DSS has launched a boycott of the Serb parliament.

Prague, 11 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Kosovo's provisional parliament, elected by voters on 17 November, held its inaugural session yesterday in a formal ceremony led by the UN's chief administrator for the province, Hans Haekkerup.

Haekkerup described the event by saying, "We are now witnessing the establishment of substantial, meaningful self-government in Kosovo." He also alluded to the decades of totalitarian rule in the province, saying, "For the first time in history, we are now participating in the opening of a truly democratically elected assembly representing the people of Kosovo."

All 14 parties elected to the 120-seat assembly were present, including the 22 deputies of the Serbian Povratak (Return) coalition. The assembly is aimed at enabling UN-administered Kosovo to have substantial self-rule within Serbia.

Deputies elected the head of Kosovo's Academy of Sciences, Nexhat Daci, as speaker of parliament. Daci is a close associate of Ibrahim Rugova and a member of the presidium of Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo. He is a native of the village of Trnovac near Bujanovac in southern Serbia, an area Albanians historically refer to as Eastern Kosovo. Daci is a professor of chemistry, having studied at the universities of Belgrade and Zagreb.

During yesterday's two-hour session, Haekkerup cut off the microphone twice -- once when an Albanian deputy, PDK faction leader Fatmir Limaj, asked for permission for a surviving member of the Jashari family, massacred by Serb forces in February 1998, to attend the session.

Limaj: "I request permission for a surviving member of the Jashari family to attend today's session."

Haekkerup: "Mr. Limaj, I think you should stick to the point on the agenda."

Haekkerup also cut off Serb Povratak deputy Rada Trajkovic after she complained of the difficulties Serb lawmakers allegedly faced in getting to Pristina. "I regret that the Povratak MPs have had difficulties in getting here today," he said

Trajkovic later said that, although Povratak deputies are ready to cooperate in the parliament, "All our efforts will be aimed at what is and always has been the essence of Kosovo -- Kosovo in Serbia and in Yugoslavia."

The new speaker, Daci, cut off PDK leader Hashim Thaci after he diverged from the agenda -- the election of a seven-member presidium -- and asked for the floor. Thaci then led his 26 deputies in a brief walkout, alleging that the session was being chaired undemocratically and that his right to free speech had been denied.

PDK faction chief Limaj later said: "They behave in a way to prevent us from participating in the discussion. So we went out for a five-minute consultation."

After the session, Daci told RFE/RL's Albanian Unit that a few snags in the proceedings were to be expected: "It was to be expected that at the start there would be some Balkan-type moves, but Kosovo today is beginning a new life, opening a new page. In fact, this is the beginning of the gradual transfer of power from UNMIK [UN Mission in Kosovo] to Kosovars. We haven't finished our task [according to the agenda], but we hope to reach an agreement in the next three days on the unresolved issues."

Unresolved issues include who the president and prime minister will be and the makeup of the new government. Deputies scheduled their next meeting for 13 December, when they are expected to choose a president.

Rugova is the leading candidate for president, since his party came in first in the elections and has 47 of the 120 seats in parliament. But at least 61 votes are needed to elect the president. Rugova says the other two main Albanian parties, Thaci's PDK and Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), have so far rejected his offer of a deal.

"We offered our partners the posts of five ministers, two deputy prime ministers, and the deputy speaker of parliament. They refused this."

The constitutional framework for provisional self-government decreed by Haekkerup last May says minorities must have at least two ministerial posts -- one of which must be occupied by a Serb -- and that in the event the government has more than 12 ministers, "a third minister shall be from a minority community."

Journalists were barred from attending yesterday's session and watched it from TV monitors in an adjoining hall. Albanian parties had wanted to have the Albanian flag -- the double-headed eagle of Skanderbeg -- present at the meeting, but since this would have led to a Serb walkout, only UN flags were present.

While the Serb deputies did not boycott yesterday's session in Pristina, deputies of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) boycotted yesterday's session of the Serbian parliament in Belgrade. DSS says it will continue to boycott parliament until lawmakers agree to Kostunica's demand to reinstate the speaker, Dragan Marsicanin, who resigned last week.

Kostunica, in a letter on 9 December to his coalition partners, alleged that Marsicanin had been forced to resign in what he termed a "blatant violation of the coalition agreement."

DSS then went one step further and boycotted what were supposed to be reconciliation talks with the other 17 parties in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) alliance.

DOS's leadership has accused the DSS of abandoning the reform course and has rejected Kostunica's demand for Marsicanin's reinstatement, terming it an ultimatum.

While Kostunica may be trying to engineer the collapse of the Serbian government, he has a long way to go, since the remaining 17 parties in DOS control 131 seats in the 250-seat parliament.

Last August, Kostunica triggered a similar crisis by withdrawing his party's minister and deputy ministers from the Serbian government over alleged links between other parties in the coalition and organized crime.

At that time, Kostunica said his party would remain outside the government but would otherwise continue to cooperate at all levels of power.