Albanians defying Serbs, voting to quit Yugoslavia


PRIZREN, Yugoslavia -- Grooming the next battlefield for Yugoslavia's roving civil war, Serb police arrested ethnic Albanian activists, seized ballot boxes and harassed U.S. election monitors yesterday in a vain attempt to disrupt an independence vote in Serbia's restive southwestern province of Kosovo, adjacent to Albania and Macedonia.

Despite intimidation by heavily armed Serbian police and Yugoslav federal troops patrolling in armored vehicles, Albanians flooded to secret polling places to vote for a president and Parliament committed to independence from the Serbian republic.

Kosovo's revered Albanian community leader, the writer Ibrahim Rugoza, was the only candidate on the presidential ballot.

He is expected to announce an autonomous Kosovo republic within a few days, possibly triggering a bloody confrontation with Serbian forces vehemently opposed to Kosovo's secession.

A pro-independence legislature is assured of election. More than 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million residents are ethnic Albanians and oppose Serbia's iron-fisted rule of their province.

But Yugoslavia's 10 million Serbs are emotional in their attachment to Kosovo, which was Serbia's medieval heartland and the scene of its conquest by Ottoman Turkey in 1389. Although Kosovo is now predominantly Albanian, Belgrade has vowed to crush any Albanian effort to wrest it from Serbian control.

Many in Kosovo concede that the election may provoke a blood bath. But the Albanians say they can no longer submit to repression.

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