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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kosovo's President Dies at 61

PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro -- Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova, the ethnic Albanian leader who came to epitomize the province's decades-long struggle for total independence from Serbia, has died without seeing his dream fulfilled. He was 61.

Rugova's death from lung cancer Saturday leaves a vacuum in the fraction-ridden political scene at a crucial time.

The restive province is embarking on the delicate process of negotiating a solution that its ethnic Albanian majority hopes will lead to full independence. Though diagnosed with cancer last September, Rugova -- often called the "Gandhi of the Balkans" -- continued to lead the province's negotiating team for what he hoped would be the final countdown with Serbia.

He met regularly with Western politicians, insisting on recognition of the province's independence even as he struggled at times to catch his breath.

With his trademark scarf wrapped around his neck, Rugova had cult status among many ethnic Albanians. He was the living symbol of their demand for independence from Serbia since the early 1990s, when he led the nonviolent fight against Serbian repression under Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.