PRISTINA — Kosovo's parliament voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to oust Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's weakened government, setting the stage for its first elections since declaring independence in 2008.
Interim president Jakup Krasniqi immediately dissolved parliament and announced elections would be held on December 12.
Earlier, parliament adopted a motion of no-confidence by 66 votes to one, with two abstentions, Krasniqi told lawmakers.
Under Kosovo's fledgling constitution, elections will have to be held within 45 days.
In a strange twist, Thaci hailed the vote as a new beginning.
"The voting of members of the parliament is a vote for the future of Kosovo. It is a responsible decision that will mark a new beginning for the state of Kosovo," he said.
However, analysts warned that the internal political wrangling which is likely to delay the start of EU-brokered talks with Serbia will damage Pristina's image internationally.
December's elections will be the first since Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008, a move that has been recognised by 71 countries, including the United States and a majority of states in the European Union.
Although Kosovo's independence declaration has been vigorously opposed by its one-time rulers Serbia, the EU has been trying to set up talks between Pristina and Belgrade in a bid to normalise relations between the two sides.
The current political crisis now looks set to delay the start of talks, with Krasniqi telling a newspaper that dialogue should start "only after new institutions emerging from these polls are constituted".
Serbia's deputy minister for Kosovo insisted Tuesday that the snap elections should not delay talks.
"It is in the interest of the Albanians that the talks start as soon as possible," Oliver Ivanovic told the Beta news agency.
The parties agreed to hold talks on basic issues like communication, transport and energy, and to move on to more sensitive ones like war missing, return of refugees and property rights.
Kosovo pulled off a diplomatic coup in July when the International Court of Justice, the UN's highest court, issued a non-binding opinion that its 2008 independence declaration did not violate international law.
But although Pristina had hoped the opinion would prompt more countries to acknowledge its independence, only Honduras and tiny Kiribati have since come forward as Kosovo's politicians focus on domestic politics.
"There was no need to provoke such a crisis when Kosovo after a long time was the focus of the international community for the best (the ICJ ruling and talks with Serbia)," political analyst Krenar Gashi told AFP
"Today's event harms the last phase of building up Kosovo's statehood, namely the talks with Serbia as an equal partner," said Gashi.
Observers say Thaci hopes the snap elections will provide him with a stronger mandate as he shifts the blame for the crisis to his former coalition partner, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).
Conveniently for Thaci his other big rival, Ramush Haradinaj, is currently in the custody of the UN war crimes court in The Hague, awaiting a retrial and unable to campaign for polls on such short notice.
Kosovo's political crisis started when the LDK quit the governing coalition with Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) in late September following the resignation of its leader Fatmir Sejdiu as Kosovo's president.
On Tuesday Thaci's own deputies voted against the government to usher in quick elections.
"Hashim Thaci will be remembered in the parliamentarian history of Kosovo as the only prime minister who was overthrown by his own party," Donika Kadaj-Bujupi, a lawmaker from Haradinaj's AAK party said Tuesday.
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