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Kosovo police clash with ethnic Serb protesters

#Kosovo #police #clash #ethnic #Serb #protesters

Police on Monday fired teargas during clashes with ethnic Serbs protesting to demand the withdrawal of law enforcement officers from northern Kosovo along with new ethnic Albanian mayors.

Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority boycotted last month’s elections in the north, allowing ethnic Albanians to take control of the local councils despite a tiny turnout of under 3.5 percent.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti last week went ahead and installed the mayors, defying calls by the European Union and the United States, which has championed the territory’s 2008 independence from Serbia.

Early Monday, a group of Serbs gathered in front of the municipal building in the northern Serb-majority town of Zvecan and tried to enter the premises.

Police responded with tear gas and immediately pushed them back, an AFP journalist said.

Kosovo police said “organised” demonstrators also threw tear gas in Zvecan after assembling outside three town halls in northern Kosovo, home to many ethnic Serbs who have remained loyal to Belgrade and rejected Kosovo’s independence. 

“The protesters, using violence and throwing tear gas, tried to cross the security cordons and make a forced entry into the municipality facility,” Kosovo police said in a statement.

“Police were forced to use legal means, such as (pepper) spray, to stop the protesters and bring the situation under control.”

Serbs are demanding that Kosovo police forces — whose presence in northern Kosovo always sparks controversy — immediately withdraw, as well as the ethnic Albanian mayors who they do not consider to be their true representatives.

NATO-led peacekeepers deployed in Kosovo as the KFOR mission positioned themselves between the police and protesters, while some 50 soldiers from Poland and Hungary in full riot gear deployed around the Zvecan municipality building, an AFP journalist said.

KFOR said they have boosted their presence in northern Kosovo following the latest developments and urged Belgrade and Pristina to engage in EU-led dialogue to reduce tensions.

“We call on all sides to refrain from actions that could inflame tensions or cause escalation,” KFOR said in a statement.

Tensions in northern Kosovo sparked on Friday as police used tear gas to disperse Serbs who protested the installation of the mayors.

Belgrade responded by placing its army on high alert and ordered forces towards the border, a step it has taken repeatedly in recent years.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that “Serbs are fighting for their rights in northern Kosovo” during his visit to Kenya, noting that the army was on high alert and adding that the “decision will be taken by the Serbian president”.

“A big explosion is looming in the heart of Europe, where NATO in 1999 carried out an aggression against Yugoslavia,” Lavrov said, commenting on 1999 NATO intervention against Belgrade that effectively ended the war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian guerillas.

Local media reported that Western diplomats of the so-called Quint — five NATO members that focus on the Western Balkans — have summoned the ethnic Albanian mayors to a meeting in the capital Pristina in a bid to ease tensions.

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