Kosovo president escapes roadside bomb ambush
IBRAHIM Rugova, Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian president, survived an apparent assassination attempt yesterday when a roadside bomb exploded as his convoy passed through the centre of the capital, Pristina.
The attack raised tensions in the province a week after its guerrilla-hero prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, resigned to face war crimes charges.
The bomb was hidden in a dustbin by the side of the city’s central Ramiz Sadiku boulevard, and exploded as Mr Rugova was on his way to a meeting with the European Union’s foreign policy supremo, Javier Solana.
The president was unhurt, but Sabrije Kamberi, a spokesman for Kosovo’s police force, said at least one person was injured by flying glass.
"Thank God I survived again," said Mr Rugova, 61, when he arrived at the meeting. "Unfortunately, there are still elements that want to destabilise Kosovo."
Mr Rugova’s vehicle, a black, armoured Chevrolet Suburban four-wheel drive, was damaged in the blast, which shattered nearby shop windows.
A senior NATO source said the blast might have been a warning. "Whoever committed this was either stupid, in not thinking the president would be in an armoured car, or has done it to show there could be a next time, and the blast could be stronger," he said.
There was no immediate clue to who may have planted the device or why, and no claim of responsibility. Speculation focused on political rivalries between former guerrillas.
The attack was the second attempt on the president’s life in the past year. Last March, a hand grenade was hurled at Mr Rugova’s residence from a passing vehicle and exploded in his garden.
A police officer at the bomb scene said yesterday’s explosion appeared to have been caused by a remote-controlled device.
International UN police officers sealed off the site and NATO-led peacekeepers used a robot to search for more bombs.
Soren Jessen-Petersen, the senior UN official in the province, "strongly condemned" the attack on the convoy. He also telephoned Mr Rugova "to express his shock and outrage at the incident", a UN statement said.
Terry Davis, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog, said that the attack on Mr Rugova was "an unacceptable act of terrorism".
Mr Rugova, a pacifist leader, was elected as Kosovo’s president in 2002. He was re-elected last December when his party formed a coalition with the much smaller Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, led by Haradinaj.
Mr Rugova has many enemies, in part because he has been at the forefront of ethnic Albanian demands for independence. He is disliked by Serb radicals who want Kosovo to remain part of Serbia.
However, ethnic Albanian radicals - particularly former rebel fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army - have long held a grudge against him for failing to support the KLA.
Mr Rugova had argued for peaceful resistance against Serbia in the 1998-9 war in which about 12,000 people, mainly ethnic Albanians, were killed or went missing.
Haradinaj resigned as prime minister of Kosovo last Tuesday after he was charged by the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague with 37 counts of atrocities allegedly committed against Serbs, Albanians and gypsy civilians during the 1998-9 war. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Haradinaj’s departure leaves a potentially violent power vacuum at the centre of Kosovo’s governmental apparatus.
The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), is the second largest party in Kosovo after Mr Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo.
The PDK is led by another former KLA commander, Hacim Thaci, known as "the Snake".
Mr Thaci would like to see his party hold more power in the government - especially the prime minister’s post - and is said to view this period after Haradinaj’s departure as the ideal time to achieve this.
Mr Thaci’s former deputy in the PDK, another ex-KLA commander, Fatmir Limaj, is already in detention in the Hague after being indicted in 2003 for war-crimes committed during the 1998-9 war.
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