Clashes between police and Serbs in Northern Kosovo

Southeast Europe | May 29, 2023, Monday // 15:43|  views

Police fired tear gas during clashes with ethnic Serbs who protested demanding the withdrawal of law enforcement officers from northern Kosovo, as well as the appointment of new mayors.

Kosovo's ethnic Serb minority boycotted last month's elections in the north of the country, which allowed ethnic Albanians to take control of local municipalities despite a low voter turnout of less than 3.5 percent.

Last week, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti continued to appoint the mayors, defying calls from the European Union and the United States, which back the territory's independence from Serbia in 2008, AFP reported.

Early on Monday, a group of Serbs gathered in front of the municipality building in the northern town of Zvecan, which has a Serb majority, and tried to enter the building.

The police responded with tear gas and immediately pushed them back.

Kosovo police said "organized" demonstrators also fired tear gas in Zvecan after gathering outside three town halls in northern Kosovo, home to many ethnic Serbs loyal to Belgrade who reject Kosovo's independence.

The protesters used violence, threw tear gas canisters and tried to break through security cordons and force their way into the municipality building, 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."

The Serbs are demanding that the Kosovo police force, whose presence in northern Kosovo is always controversial, withdraw immediately, as well as the ethnic Albanian mayors, whom they do not consider to be their true representatives.

The NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, KFOR, is positioned between the police and the protesters, and around 50 soldiers from Poland and Hungary in full riot gear are stationed around the Zvecan municipality building, an AFP journalist said.

KFOR said it had stepped up its presence in northern Kosovo following recent events and called on Belgrade and Pristina to start an EU-led dialogue to reduce tensions.

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

The local media reported that the Western diplomats from the so-called quintet - the US, Germany, the UK, Italy and France - have called on ethnic Albanian mayors meeting in the capital Pristina to ease tensions.

Protesters in front of the municipality of Zvecan placed a flag of Serbia on an armored vehicle of the special forces of the Kosovo police, and on another they spray-painted four "Cs", the Kosovo site "Koha" reported.

KFOR's armored car was also sprayed with spray.

The commander of the KFOR unit located in front of the municipality of Zvecan agreed with the chairman of the Serbian List party, Goran Rakic, that the two armored vehicles of the special police unit be removed. But the protesters refuse to leave to clear the way. Negotiations continue, the publication also writes.

Rakic stated that the citizens will remain there until the special police units leave and the new mayor, Izmir Zekiri, is allowed to enter the Zvecan Municipality building.

There is an increased presence of soldiers from KFOR in front of the buildings of the municipalities of Severna Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zvechan and Zubin-Potok.

Wire fences have also been placed around the perimeter of the municipality's facilities.

Protests have been announced for Monday in four municipalities in the northern part of Kosovo: Severna Mitrovica, Zvechan, Leposavic and Zubin-Potok.

The representatives of the Serbian List spoke with members of the Kosovo Police. They were asked to free the municipality of Leposavic so that "the employees can return to the municipality".

In Zubin-Potok, seven KFOR armored vehicles arrived in front of the municipality building, and some KFOR members entered the building.

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Tags: Serbs, police, kosovo, Zvecan


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