Police officers used tear gas and stun grenades against Serbs who had gathered in front of municipal buildings in northern Kosovo. They had wanted to prevent four newly sworn ethnic Albanian mayors from moving into their town halls after the local elections in April.
The ethnic Serbs, who form a majority in the north of the country, had boycotted the votes there, allowing ethnic Albanians to take control of local councils despite the low turnout of 3.5 percent. In contrast to the north, almost exclusively Albanians live in the rest of Kosovo.
In the Serb-majority village of Zvecan, clashes broke out between Serb demonstrators and Kosovan police officers. Doctors said several people were injured, including police officers. Violent protesters set a police car on fire.
The Serbian state broadcaster RTS reported that the Kosovo police also used tear gas against demonstrators in the northern communities of Zubin Potok and Leposavic. In Leposavic, ethnic Serbs have started setting up roadblocks to protest the events.
Serbian military moves closer to Kosovo border
Serbian President Alexsandar Vucic put the military on alert and ordered units to move closer to the Kosovo border.
Many ethnic Serbs in the northern districts of Kosovo still feel part of the government in Belgrade. After a war in 1999, Kosovo broke away from Serbia and unilaterally declared its independence in 2008. Belgrade still does not recognize the move.
The Kosovan government in the capital Pristina blamed the Serbian leadership for the recent unrest. “Serbia’s illegal and criminal structures in northern Kosovo were given the order to escalate the situation on the ground,” Blerim Vela, chief of staff to Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani, wrote on Twitter.
The Republic of Kosovo has a population of around 1.9 million, including 120,000 Serbs, most of whom live in the north.
Germany extends Kosovo mission
Meanwhile, the German Bundestag decided to continue the Bundeswehr mission in Kosovo. The MPs voted for German soldiers to continue to participate in the NATO-led KFOR mission. There are currently around 70 soldiers from the Bundeswehr on site. They are stationed in Pristina. It is the Bundeswehr’s oldest deployment abroad.
The mandate envisages up to 400 emergency personnel in order to be able to react flexibly to a possible resurgence of tensions between the Kosovar and Serbian population. According to NATO, Kfor currently has a total of around 3,800 task forces from 27 countries.
se/uh (dpa, afp, rtr, ap)