- Title: VARIOUS: Kosovan President Rugova dies, as mourners hold candlelit vigil.
- Date: 22nd January 2006
- Summary: (BN10) PRISTINA, KOSOVO, SERBIAMONTENEGRO (FILE - OCTOBER 24, 2004) (REUTERS) (AS 1120/06) IBRAHIM RUGOVA AT A NEWS CONFERENCE
- Reuters ID: LVA27C59BG69BLNC8BRXYFTCMS1D
- Duration: 00:00:09
- Topics: International Relations,Domestic Politics
- Story Text: The President of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, died of lung cancer on Saturday (January 21), leaving a leadership vacuum among ethnic Albanians on the eve of talks they hoped would secure Kosovan independence from Serbia.
His death came just days before the United Nations was due to begin direct negotiations between Belgrade and Kosovan leaders to decide whether Kosovo's 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority wins independence or remains part of Serbia as Belgrade insists.
Spokesman Muhamet Hamiti said: "President Ibrahim Rugova died today surrounded by his family, his personal physician and American physicians."
"He's been battling cancer for months as you know since late summer. He battled cancer with dignity and courage until his last breath."
Rugova, 61, had been under care at his villa in Pristina, since being diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2005 at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. U.S. doctors were supervising his treatment.
He died without seeing the independence he worked for most of his adult life.
Many people went to his home on Saturday to pay their respects, including Soren Jessen-Petersen, the top United Nations (U.N.) official in Kosovo.
"We are losing a leader at a very decisive moment in the history of Kosovo and I cannot but say that I find it a deep personal tragedy that the president should leave us," said Jessen-Petersen.
"If we have reached this historic moment in the history and future of Kosovo it is first and foremost thanks to the leadership that President Rugova has provided over so many years and the best tribute we can pay to the leadership and courage of President Rugova is to stay united, all citizens, all institutions work to realise the president's mission," the U.N. official said.
Rugova has no clear successor in his faction-ridden Democratic League of Kosovo and no plans for his replacement at the helm of the Kosovo negotiating team have been announced.
In accordance with the rules of Kosovo interim institutions, parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci was named acting president. Parliament must choose Rugova's replacement within three months.
Hundreds of mourners lit candles at the statue of Albanian national hero Skenderbeg as night fell on Pristina.
"He was a man of peace and freedom, but he was unlucky and did not live to see independent Kosovo, let's hope that our politicians will follow his path," said Jahir Agushaj.
U.N. special envoy and former Finnish president, who is also chief mediator for talks on Kosovo's future, Martti Ahtisaari, told a news conference that he hopes that status negotiations would continue.
"I do hope that the negotiations will continue. I'm certain that President Rugova would have liked to see that we will proceed with the status negotiations so that results can be achieved. I also express the hope that the situation will remain calm and the constitution will be honoured," he said.
Western diplomats have expressed concern at the prospect of a messy power struggle at such a crucial moment.
A powerful figurehead and two-time president, Rugova had been expected to steer the Kosovo team through several months of negotiations with the Serbs.
Legally part of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombing drove out Serb forces accused of atrocities against Albanian civilians in a two-year war with separatist guerrillas.
Rugova was instantly recognisable by his silk scarf. Educated at the Sorbonne university in Paris, the literature professor was the driving force behind a decade of passive resistance to Serb domination from 1989, when former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic stripped the province of its autonomy.
Rugova created a parallel Kosovo state in the 1990s to defy Serb oppression.
Dubbed by supporters the 'Gandhi of the Balkans', he clung to passive tactics in the 1990s while Croatia and Bosnia were consumed by ethnic war.
A government source in Kosovo said his funeral would take place on Wednesday (January 25), the day the United Nations was due to begin direct negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina to decide whether Kosovo's 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority wins independence or remains part of Serbia as Belgrade insists.
Across SerbiaMontenegro, people are discussing what his death means for the future of the political process.
"I don't think his death will change anything. The Albanians were ready for this and I think talks will go on as planned," said Ivan Bajec, a 58-year-old resident of Kosovska Mitrovica.
Dejan Ivanovic said rumours had spread earlier about Rugova's death, but "the Albanians had kept it under wraps".
Marko Pavlovic commented: "It's too bad he died because all the others in his party and his surroundings are much more extreme. This is bad for us."
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