NOVEMBER 12 2009 17:13h
More then 1.5 million people are eligible to vote in Sunday's election for mayors and local council members in 36 municipalities.
An attack on Prime Minister Hashim Thaci as he left a campaign rally cast a shadow over preparations for Kosovo's first election since it proclaimed independence from Serbia.
But the size of a threatened Serb boycott on Sunday could decide the success of the municipal poll that Thaci has said is "the most important historic event for Kosovo" since it split from its neighbour in February 2008.
Thaci's motorcade came under a hail of stones and eggs late Wednesday as he left the western town of Decani after a rally organised by his Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK).
The US embassy in Pristina voiced "distress" over the violence and called on - all political leaders, parties and activists to refrain from all violence and provocations. -
General Markus Bentler, the German head of the NATO-led international peacekeeping force (KFOR), has vowed that his almost 13,000 troops would be ready to react at very short notice if needed.
More then 1.5 million people are eligible to vote in Sunday's election for mayors and local council members in 36 municipalities, including the capital Pristina.
It is the first election of any kind since the ethnic-Albanian majority led the move to declare Kosovo independent last year. Nesrin Lushta of the Central Electoral Commission told AFP that everything was ready for voting and officials were "very well aware of the importance of the first elections."
The main political concern is the expected boycott by the Serb minority who, backed by Serbia and its ally Russia, rejected independence and still consider Kosovo a Serbian province.
Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu visited a Serb-populated village near the capital Pristina in a bid to call upon the minority to cast their ballots.
- I call on... the Serb community to take an active role in this process - Sejdiu said at a press conference, speaking in Serbian, instead of his native Albanian.
About 120,000 Serbs live in Kosovo, some 40,000 in the north near the border with Serbia. Appeals to boycott the vote have been made by the government in Belgrade and the influential Serbian Orthodox church.
Sejdiu said that Serbia's call for a boycott was "unjust, irrational and not in the interest of the Serb community."
Goran Bogdanovic, Serbia's Minister for Kosovo, said that to take part in the vote would mean recognising Kosovo's independence, which has already been approved by more than 60 countries, including the United States and 22 European Union members.
Serbia is challenging the legality of Kosovo's declaration at the International Court of Justice, which will begin public hearings in December.
Serbia has given financial and political support to Kosovo Serbs, encouraging them to boycott institutions of the newly-proclaimed state.
For the estimated 80,000 Serbs dispersed outside the main Serbian community, in isolated enclaves guarded by KFOR or in bigger towns, the boycott is not an easy option.
According to the electoral commision, 22 of the 74 political parties, coalitions and individual candidates in the polls represent Serbs.
Under a 2007 plan drawn up by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, the Serbs will keep a high degree of responsibility for their affairs, notably in health, education, finance and even basic security in their municipalities.
That is why Momcilo Trajkovic, a candidate for mayor in the Serb-populated town of Gracanica, near Pristina, has called on his compatriots to take part in the elections even if they do not recognize independence.
Trajkovic, leader of the Serbian Resistance Movement, said the polls represent a "crossroads for Kosovo Serbs".
- We believe that it is less evil to participate in elections, and it is possible to turn this lesser evil into something good - Trajkovic said.
The polls will be monitored by local and international observers, including a European Union mission and a European Parliament delegation.