Kosovo PM claims election victory amid low turnout

Voter turnout was 43% nationally and even lower in majority-Serb areas

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Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has claimed victory in national elections marked by a low turnout.

The former rebel chief's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) is ahead by five percentage points, according to latest results.

For the first time since Kosovo's self-declared independence in 2008, Serbia encouraged ethnic Serbs to vote, to help both countries' EU bids.

However, turnout was 42% nationally and even lower in majority Serb areas.

The elections follow last year's agreement to normalise relations between Belgrade and Pristina as a pre-condition for their bids to become members of the EU.

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Kosovo: At a glance

  • Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. It has been recognised by the US and many EU countries
  • Kosovo and Serbia reached a landmark agreement to normalise their relations in April 2013
  • The EU subsequently gave the green light for talks on an association agreement with Kosovo to begin
  • Nato peacekeepers have been in Kosovo since 1999
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With the votes of 94% of polling stations counted, the opposition Democratic League of Kosovo was on 26.12% while Mr Thaci's PDK had 31.22%, the Central Election Commission said.s

All parties support Kosovo's ambition to join the EU.

Kosovo's last national election in 2010 saw a turnout of 47.8%.

There have been no instances of the violence that blighted Kosovo's last two national polls.

Mass unemployment

Almost 30,000 monitors were in action to prevent a repeat of the fraud which also marred the last election, the BBC's Balkans correspondent Guy De Launey reports.

In 2010, diplomats and election monitors witnessed ballot-stuffing and other irregularities, and voting had to be held again at more than 20 polling stations, our correspondent says.

Leader of the biggest opposition party Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Isa Mustafa attends an election rally in the western Kosovo town of Peja June 1 The government faces a strong challenge from Isa Mustafa's Democratic League of Kosovo
A Kosovo Albanian woman places her ballot paper into a voting box at the polling station in the capital city Pristina June 8 Polling stations have been busy in the capital Pristina
A Kosovo Albanian man prepares his ballot at a polling booth with a "no guns" sign before voting at a polling station in Pristina on June 8, Authorities have been keen to avoid the violence which marred previous elections

Kumrje Sahiti, an Albanian voter from Pristina, told the Associated Press she just hoped the best candidate would win.

"I am hoping for progress in economy, agriculture and education,", she said.

Agron Bajrami, a local newspaper editor, said it was impossible to predict the outcome.

"Today's elections in Kosovo are all about the economy," he said.

"It is maybe the first time since we declared independence that we are talking only about the wellbeing of people and the unemployment, which is very high."

About two out of three under-25s are currently jobless, and nearly 50% of Kosovo's 1.8 million people are considered to be poor.

Although Belgrade still rejects Kosovo's independence, it is encouraging the ethnic Serb community to take part in the elections.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has said it would be "unwise" for ethnic Serbs to abstain.

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