Rugova, Kosovo's President, Dies of Cancer

Ibrahim Rugova gestures in a September 2005 photograph i i

Ibrahim Rugova, photographed in September 2005. hide caption

itoggle caption
Ibrahim Rugova gestures in a September 2005 photograph

Ibrahim Rugova, photographed in September 2005.

Ibrahim Rugova, the president of Kosovo, dies of lung cancer at 61. He was long identified with ethnic Albanians' struggle for independence from Serbia. John Ydstie speaks with Tina Raja of the Associated Press about the Balkan leader.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

We received word this morning that Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova has died. Mr. Rugova had been suffering from lung cancer. He was 61 years old.

Associated Press reporter, Tina Kraja joins us from Kosovo's capital Priština. Thanks for being with us.

Ms. TINA KRAJA (Reporter, Associated Press): Thank you, John.

YDSTIE: What's happening in Priština now, any public reaction to Mr. Rugova's death?

Ms. KRAJA: Well, not as of yet. His staff and his bodyguards, and also other neighbors and just people, his supporters, have gathered at his residence. The local televisions and radios are playing solemn music. There have been some meetings going on with the U.N. administration and other local leaders here, and there's a few more lined up to take place later today.

YDSTIE: Remind us about Ibrahim Rugova's role in the efforts of ethnic Albanians to achieve independence, first from Yugoslavia, and then from Serbia.

Ms. KRAJA: Well, Ibrahim Rugova was basically the leader of the ethnic Albanians beginning of the '90s, so very early '90s. He has led the efforts of the ethnic Albanians for independence from Serbia. Obviously, he died as the talks on the future of the (unintelligible) Kosovo status are to begin. They were expected to begin on Wednesday. It's still not clear who will Rugova's successor be. And it's unclear still whether those thoughts will take place as they were planned for next week.

YDSTIE: Tell us a little bit about the man. Who was he? What kind of charisma did he have?

Ms. KRAJA: He was a writer when this whole thing began in the late '80s. He led the Writers Association of Kosovo, which became the forefront of ethnic Albanian demand for independence. He intensified this struggle. He basically became the leader of this demand. He was back and forth visiting western capitals, pressing for independence for the ethnic Albanian dominated province. He has been struggling with this illness since September. He has kept on his political efforts, and he died today as the president of the province.

YDSTIE: Is his death likely to have any impact on these negotiations, these independent negotiations that are to be starting now?

Ms. KRAJA: Well, I'm not in a position to talk about that. There's meetings going on today on how this whole thing will be arranged. There's still not much clarity on how this will go on. Obviously, there's no clarity of who's going to be his successor.

YDSTIE: Associated Press Reporter, Tina Kraja, speaking with us from Pristina Serbia-Montenegro. Thanks very much.

Ms. KRAJA: No problem. Thank you.

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