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In the 12th century Kosovo was the heart of the Serbian empire, until Turkish triumph at the pivotal 1389 Battle of Kosovo ushered in 500 years of Ottoman rule.

Serbia regained control in the 1912 Balkan War. In WWII the territory was incorporated into Italian-controlled Albania and liberated in October 1944 by Albanian partisans. After decades of neglect, Yugoslavia granted Kosovo de facto self-government status in 1974. In 1989 the autonomy Kosovo enjoyed under the 1974 constitution was suspended by Slobodan Milošević. Ethnic Albanian leaders declared independence from Serbia in 1990.

War broke out in 1992 – that same year, Ibrahim Rugova was elected as the first president of the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo. Ethnic conflict heightened and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was formed in 1996.

In March 1999 a US-backed plan to return Kosovo’s autonomy was rejected by Serbia, which moved to empty the province of its non-Serbian population. Nearly 850,000 Kosovo Albanians fled to Albania and Macedonia. After Serbia refused to desist, NATO unleashed a bombing campaign on 24 March 1999. In June, Milošević agreed to withdraw troops, air strikes ceased, the KLA disarmed and the NATOled KFOR (Kosovo Force; the international force responsible for establishing security in Kosovo) took over.

From June 1999, Kosovo was administered as a UN–NATO protectorate. Kosovo caught the world’s attention again in 2004 when violence broke out in Mitrovica; 19 people were killed, 600 homes were burnt and 29 monasteries and churches were destroyed in the worst ethnic violence since 1999. UN-sponsored talks on Kosovo’s status began in February 2006 and Kosovo’s parliament declared Kosovo independent on 17 February 2008. Seventy-one UN member states recognise Kosovo’s independence, but the Serbian prime minister, Vojislav Koštunica, stated that ‘as long as the Serb people exist, Kosovo will be Serbia’.

In June 2008 a new constitution transferred power from the UN to the government of Kosovo. Kosovo Serbs established their own assembly in Mitrovica. In July 2010 the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law; however, Serbia’s president reiterated that Serbia would ‘never recognise the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo’.

Fatmir Sejdiu became president after Ibrahim Rugova’s death in 2006, but resigned in September 2010 after Kosovo’s constitutional court declared he was in ‘serious breach’ of the constitution by maintaining a party post while in office. Hashim Thaci is Kosovo’s prime minister.