PRISTINA Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu resigned on Monday, potentially destabilizing the fragile political scene before talks with Belgrade which still refuses to recognize the former Serbian province's independence.
Sejdiu bowed to a constitutional court ruling last week that he may not serve simultaneously as the largely ceremonial head of state and as leader of his political party, which is junior partner in the coalition government.
"I respect the constitutional court decision," Sejdiu told a news conference in announcing his resignation as president, who is elected by parliament. "Over these years I have worked so that the Republic of Kosovo would have democratic institutions."
A 58-year-old former law professor, Sejdiu was elected president for the second time in 2008 but remained at the helm of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the second largest party which is part of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's government.
The resignation highlights the growing pains of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, although Belgrade lost control of its province nine years earlier.
In a major policy change, Serbia said earlier this month it would negotiate with Kosovo on practical issues for the country of two million which it does not recognize diplomatically.
Ilir Deda, executive director of the Kosovo think tank KIPRED, said Sejdiu's resignation was problematic for the negotiations which are expected to start next month.
"Kosovo cannot have talks with Belgrade with incomplete institutions amid a vacant presidency and politically weakened government," he said.
In July, in a blow to the impoverished country's image as it tries to attract international investment, authorities jailed the central bank governor in a corruption investigation.
Last Friday, the constitutional court ruled that Sejdiu committed "a serious violation" by serving as both president of Kosovo and leader of a political party. The ruling had been widely expected as the constitution bars the president from holding any political party functions.
Sejdiu was elected president in 2006 to replace Ibrahim Rugova who died of lung cancer.
Sejdiu helped to draft laws in Kosovo after the 1998-99 war when NATO waged a bombing campaign to halt killings of ethnic Albanians in a two-year counter-insurgency war with Serb forces. He was also the head of Kosovo delegation during status talks with Serbia when Kosovo declared independence.
The parliament has 60 days in which to appoint a successor.
(Editing by Adam Tanner/David Stamp)