Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova Dies at 61
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer
President Ibrahim Rugova died Saturday, his spokesman said. The 61-year-old Rugova had been suffering from lung cancer.
Rugova died in his residence in Pristina at midday Saturday surrounded by his family, said Muhamet Hamiti.
Rugova, who came to embody ethnic Albanians' struggle for independence from Serbia, was diagnosed with lung cancer last September. He had been a chain-smoker until he was diagnosed with the illness.
Rugova had been at the forefront of ethnic Albanian demand for independence from Serbia since the early 1990s, when he started leading a nonviolent movement against the policies of Slobodan Milosevic, then president of Yugoslavia.
His death comes at a sensitive time for the province, which is about to start negotiations on whether to become independent or remain part of Serbia. The ethnic Albanian majority want full independence, but Serbs want Kosovo to remain part of Serbia-Montenegro, the union that replaced Yugoslavia.
The first formal U.N.-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia officials were expected Wednesday in Vienna, Austria. Rugova had not been expected to attend, but it was not immediately clear whether the meeting would go ahead as planned.
His death also leaves the province grappling with possible succession battles.
The head of parliament, Nexhat Daci, is expected to named acting president until the parliament chooses a new leader.
No other Kosovo politician has been held in as much regard as Rugova. He won international respect through the peaceful nature of his opposition to Serb dominance, in contrast to other Kosovo Albanians now in leadership positions, who were part of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army that fought Serb troops.
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