Conflicts & War

Tensions soar as ethnic Serbs renew protests in northern Kosovo

Belgrade, May 31 (EFE).- Minority ethnic Serbs gathered again outside city halls in several northern municipalities in Kosovo on Wednesday to call for newly-elected ethnic Albanian mayors to be removed from their positions.

Nato-led international peacekeeping soldiers deployed there have set up metal fences and barbed wire barriers in front of the government building in Zvecan in an attempt to quell the violent demonstrations.

On Tuesday, serious clashes between protesters and troops of the Nato-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) unit backed by police in Zvecan injured 80 people, including 30 soldiers, prompting the North Atlantic military alliance to deploy an additional 700 troops to support the personnel already in the Balkan nation.

Large crowds of Serb protesters have since Friday been trying to block ethnic Albanian mayors from entering their offices in Zvecan, Leposavic, Zubin Potoc and North Mitrovica.

Kosovo Serbs, who are a majority in the municipalities where the protests are taking place but are a minority overall in the rest of Kosovo, do not recognize the authority of the four mayors who were elected in the April elections.

Ethnic Serbs boycotted the local ballots, which recorded a turnout of just over 3% in those northern regions.

Kosovar prime minister Albin Kurti on Tuesday evening rejected the demand to remove the new mayors.

The United States and several European countries have also denounced the use of force by Kosovo authorities, and Washington has suggested that mayors should work from other buildings to help restore calm.

Kosovo, a former Serbian province with a majority ethnic-Albanian population, unilaterally declared independence from Serbia on Feb. 17, 2008.

More than 100 members of the United Nations consider Kosovo an independent nation. Serbia does not recognize it as a sovereign state.

Serbia and Kosovo are currently negotiating a normalization of relations through a US-backed and EU-sponsored plan, but that process has been frequently interrupted by ethnic tensions. EFE


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