PRISTINA, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Kosovo's election commission on Tuesday barred the leader of the biggest opposition party from running in a national election on Feb. 14 that it is expected to win due to a court conviction he received in 2018.
The court handed Albin Kurti, leader of the nationalist party Vetevendosje, an 18-month suspended jail sentence in 2018 for releasing tear gas in the parliamentary chamber to halt a debate on a deal with Belgrade that granted more autonomy to municipalities where ethnic Serbs form a majority.
Kosovo's Constitutional Court ruled in December that nobody who has been convicted of a crime in the past three years can run for parliament.
The election commission panel also barred four other members of Kurti's party from contesting the Feb. 14 election.
"Those candidates... cannot be replaced with other candidates," the panel said in a statement, meaning that Vetevendosje will put up fewer candidates than it had intended.
Kurti's party has the right to appeal the verdict.
There was no immediate comment on Tuesday from Kurti or his party, which wants Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians to form a single state with neighbouring Albania.
It was not immediately clear whether Tuesday's ruling might also prevent him from becoming prime minister. In Kosovo a candidate for prime minister does not have to be an elected member of parliament.
Kosovo called the snap February election after the Constitutional Court ruled that the current government was effectively illegal as it took office with the decisive vote of a lawmaker who had been convicted of fraud.
Next month's election will be the fifth since the Balkan country of 1.8 million people declared independence from Serbia in February 2008. (Reporting by Fatos Bytyci Editing by Gareth Jones)