PM claims Kosovo election victory
Prime minister Hashim Thaci has claimed victory in Kosovo's first general election since the province declared independence from Serbia as an independent exit poll showed his Democratic Party of Kosovo ahead of its rivals.
"This is a vote for a European Kosovo," Mr Thaci said. "It is a referendum for good governance."
According to the exit poll, conducted by Kosovo-based Gani Bobi Centre, Mr Thaci won 31% of the vote, with former coalition partners Democratic League of Kosovo trailing at 25%.
If the results are confirmed it means Mr Thaci will have the upper hand in forming a government. Official results are expected on Monday afternoon.
A newcomer to Kosovo's politics, former student leader Albin Kurti won 17% of the vote, according to the poll, and former rebel leader Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo won 12%.
Mr Kurti advocates Kosovo's unification with Albania and opposes any talks with Serbia. Such talks are a condition for Serbia and Kosovo to move closer to membership in the European Union.
The vote was held amid hopes by majority ethnic Albanians to improve Kosovo's struggling economy, as well as a minority Serb vote that has highlighted the divisions between the ethnic communities.
Most Serbs broke with tradition and came out to vote in areas surrounded by ethnic Albanians. But Serbs in Kosovo's north - where they form a majority - shunned the vote after a series of violent attacks aimed at intimidating potential voters. Officials said polling stations in Kosovo's north closed three hours ahead of time for security reasons.
Serbia called for Kosovo's Serb minority to boycott the vote to protest against the province's declaration of independence, which Serbia does not recognise as valid.
The call deepened fears that Kosovo could split into a Serb north and an ethnic Albanian south, something that would run counter to decades of efforts by the West to calm ethnic tensions in the region.