Kosovo parliament convenes for first time since snap election

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PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo’s new parliament convened on Thursday for the first time since a snap election in June but deputies did not appoint a new speaker or hold a debate as the winning coalition struggles to secure a majority.

The PAN coalition of parties made up of former guerrillas who fought in a war in 1998-99 gained 33.7 percent of votes but remains two votes short of a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Two other players, the nationalist Vetevendosje party and the LAA coalition, remain opposed to a deal that would give PAN a majority.

The deputies were divided on Thursday over the election of a speaker, which is seen as a test of PAN’s ability to form a government.

PAN’s candidate for prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, briefly held the position in 2005. The former guerrilla commander was twice indicted for war crimes by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Both times he was cleared.

In 2014, parliament did not form a government for six months, bringing the economy of the country of 1.8 million to a standstill.

Any new government will have to tackle unemployment running at 30 percent and improve relations with Kosovo’s neighbours, especially Serbia, a precondition for both countries to move forward in the European Union accession process.

It must also reform health and education and the tax administration system as well as include representatives of some 120,000 Kosovo Serbs who do not recognise independence.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after NATO air strikes drove out Serbian forces accused of expelling and killing ethnic Albanian civilians in a two-year counter-insurgency.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Aleksandar Vasovic and Matthew Mpoke Bigg