Kosovo former fighter to hold talks on becoming prime minister
PRISTINA (Reuters) - A former Kosovo Albanian guerrilla commander, acquitted last week of war crimes, said on Tuesday he expects to become Kosovo's prime minister, a move likely to anger Serbia just as the European Union is pushing the two to mend ties.
Ramush Haradinaj, who served briefly as prime minister in 2005, told Reuters he would begin talks within days with Prime Minister Hashim Thaci on the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) joining the government.
Haradinaj was a commander of ethnic Albanian guerrillas during the 1998-99 Kosovo war, which ended in 11 weeks of NATO bombing to drive out security forces under late Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
To the fury of Serbia, Haradinaj was cleared last week of war crimes for a second time at the Hague-based United Nations tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
A senior official in Thaci's ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) confirmed to Reuters that the party was considering a "partnership" with Haradinaj to shore up a shaky majority in parliament.
There is intense speculation in the Kosovo media that Thaci would cede the post of prime minister in exchange for becoming president, a largely ceremonial post but one that would allow him to consolidate and rebuild support.
Thaci's PDK has been beset by infighting and has already turned in the past to the AAK's 12 deputies to pass votes in the 120-seat parliament.
"My aim is to take the primary responsibility for the country, to take on the governing responsibility and the possibility of working to change the situation in the country," Haradinaj, a 44-year-old former nightclub bouncer, told Reuters at his party headquarters.
Elections are not due until end-2014, but analysts say it is unclear whether the coalition can survive until then.
Kosovo finally broke from Serbia in 2008, declaring independence with the backing of the West.
Serbia rejects the secession, but is under pressure from the EU to establish at least functional relations with its former southern province if the bloc is to move ahead with Serbia's bid to join.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is chairing the latest push in talks between Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Thaci, a former guerrilla commander but never charged with war crimes by the U.N. tribunal.
They were due to meet again in Brussels on Tuesday.
Thaci's replacement at the table by Haradinaj, and the backlash it would spark in Serbia, could hurt Dacic's ability to make concessions.
Haradinaj said he was ready to meet Dacic, Milosevic's sharp-tongued former spokesman during the bloody collapse of federal Yugoslavia and Serbia's brutal crackdown in Kosovo in which up to 1 million ethnic Albanian civilians were expelled.
"I take responsibility for governing the country," said Haradinaj. "From that day I take on all responsibilities that belong to the executive power."
(Editing by Matt Robinson)