Dozens of opposition activists arrested in Kosovo

Dozens of opposition activists arrested in Kosovo
By Valentina Dimitrievska November 30, 2015

Kosovo police arrested opposition leader and MP Albin Kurti on November 28 over a series of tear gas attacks in the parliament. A further 97 people were detained by police outside the Vetevendosje party's headquarters, after tens of thousands of opposition supporters held a peaceful rally against agreements with Serbia and Montenegro.

The attacks were part of a campaign launched by Vetevendosje and two other opposition parties against the country's EU-brokered landmark deals with Serbia, signed in August, and a border demarcation deal with Montenegro. Opposition to the two agreements has led to a deepening political crisis at a time when the authorities are making difficult and decisive steps to get closer to the EU.

Police said in a statement on November 28 that Kurti had been arrested on the party’s premises after he addressed opposition supporters at the rally. Police also seized tear gas devices, gas masks, metal rods and rubber bullets. Warrants for Kurti's arrest had been issued in mid-November.

Broadcaster Klan Kosova reported on November 29 that Kurti will be detained in a high security prison for 30-days.

The police said they detained 97 people, of which 11 were detained for 48 hours, while others were released. Ten people were injured during the police operation in front of Vetevendosje's headquarters, including two policemen who sought medical assistance.

In a November 28 statement Vetevendosje claimed the number of arrests was much higher - over 150 - and accused the police of using pepper spray, batons and rubber bullets in its raid on the party's offices.

Vetevendosje said in its statement that around 35,000 people attended the peaceful rally earlier on Kosovo and Albania’s national Flag Day holiday.

However, foreign minister and deputy prime minister Hashim Thaci implied in a statement on his Facebook page that the opposition had overestimated the number of supporters that attended the rally. “On November 28 the opposition expected more people to arrive on the square. But even on Independence (Flag) Day, Kosovo's citizens rejected their protest party,” he wrote.

The opposition block considers the deals with Serbia and Montenegro to be harmful to the country. It has accused the government of planning to “install a Serb republic” in Kosovo under the deal with Belgrade, which gives greater autonomy to Serb communities, and says Kosovo will lose 8,000 hectares of land under the agreement with Montenegro.

The opposition bloc has organised a petition which was signed by 205,254 of Kosovo’s 1.8mn population. On November 23, the petition was handed over to president Atifete Jahjaga.

Klan Kosova said that the united opposition plans to announce its next steps on November 30.

Meanwhile prime minister Isa Mustafa, in an attempt to defuse the tense situation, said on November 24 that the government has asked the European Union for professional expertise to support the demarcation process and also plans to ask the US to send experts. The authorities will allow the opposition to take part in the process.

In regard to the agreement with Serbia, Kosovan minister for dialogue Edita Tahiri recently said that very little progress had been recorded on the normalisation of the situation in northern Kosovo, which she said was due to the failure of the Serbian side to implement the deals.

However, the Kosovan authorities are determined to implement the agreements as the only way to make progress towards EU membership, Tahiri added.

The opposition, in turn, has said repeatedly it will continue blocking the work of the parliament until the authorities withdraw their signature from the deals.

The three parties in the opposition block, Vetevendosje, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and the Initiative for Kosovo have 16, 11 and nine seats respectively in the 120-seat parliament.

In late October, Kosovo signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) agreement with the EU and expects soon to get a visa liberalisation agreement that will allow its citizens to travel visa free to the Schengen zone.