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Kosovo hardliners win top posts in local polls

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(PRISTINA) - Hardline nationalists took top posts in Kosovo's capital as well as the main Serb-populated town in the breakaway territory in local elections, preliminary results showed Monday.

The electoral commission said the capital Pristina was won by Shpend Ahmeti of the nationalist Self Determination movement, which opposes the presence of the European Union and NATO in Kosovo as well as any talks with Serbia.

Belgrade-backed nationalist candidate Krstimir Pantic won the mayoral post in tense ethnically-divided Kosovska Mitrovica, the main town in the northern region populated mostly by Serb minority.

Although the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci lost power in three towns, it would still control most of the municipalities -- ten out of 29 -- in the former Serbian province.

The election was part of a historic deal brokered by the EU in April to normalise ties between Serbia and Kosovo since the breakaway territory proclaimed independence in 2008.

Serbia rejects Kosovo's independence but had urged its ethnic Serb community to vote and have their say in Pristina-run institutions.

Some 120,000 ethnic Serbs live in Kosovo, whose 1.8 million population is mainly Albanian.

Round one of the vote, on November 3, was annulled in Mitrovica due to violence by Serbian extremists. Repeat elections were held two weeks later under police watch.

Some 40,000 ethnic Serbs, who have recognised neither Kosovo's independence nor the authorities in Pristina since the end of the 1998-1999 war, form a majority in the north.

Authorities on both sides of the border hope that a peaceful and successful election can boost their hopes of joining the European Union.

Elected officials will also form an "Association of Serb municipalities" to replace Belgrade-elected institutions in northern Kosovo that both Pristina and the international community deem illegal.

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