Grenade thrown in northern Kosovo shortly before Serbian PM arrives for election rally

Grenade thrown in northern Kosovo shortly before Serbian PM arrives for election rally
By bne IntelliNews April 4, 2016

A hand grenade exploded outside the sports hall in Zubin Potok, one of four Serb-controlled municipalities in northern Kosovo, at around 3am on April 3, a few hours before the arrival of Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic, who planned to hold an election rally there, Kosovo police have confirmed according to local media reports.

Zubin Potok is part of the town of Kosovoska Mitrovica, which is divided between Albanians and Serbs. Despite tensions between the two ethnic groups, Vucic claimed the grenade was thrown by Serbs from the town, where the conservative opposition Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) has substantial support. The DSS is opposed to negotiations with Kosovan institutions.

Besim Hoti, a Kosovan police commander in the area, told Reuters on April 3 that a hand grenade exploded outside the sports hall but there were no injuries. Shots were fired at the same place, apparently by the same person who threw the grenade. The attacker has not been identified and there have been no arrests.

The government in Pristina said it had permitted Vucic's campaign visit. Based on the Kosovo constitution, all Serbs in Kosovo can vote for members of the parliaments in both Pristina and Belgrade, Reuters reported.

Vucic went ahead with the meeting despite the incident, which he said had been committed by Serbs.

“Everybody in Zubin Potok knows where the grenade and the bullet bursts came from,” Vucic said during a speech in the venue, adding that he was proud that no one had mentioned the name of the perpetrator.

"My response to those of our Serbs who wanted to welcome me in such a way is: may God forgive you, I will fight for you and your families to enable you to live in your ancestral homes and be happy and more satisfied than you are today," Tanjug quoted Vucic as saying.

Zubin Potok is a small municipality on the northern side of the divided town of Kosovoska Mitrovica on the River Ibar. The bridge across the river marks an informal border between local Albanians and Serbs.

Besides Mitrovica and Zubin Potok, two more Kosovan municipalities dominantly settled by Serbs, Leposavic and Zvecan, are controlled by Belgrade. These four municipalities reject participation in Kosovan institutions, and Serbs living in the areas will be able to vote in Serbia’s parliament election on April 24. North Kosovo remains an open dispute between Belgrade and Pristina, as Belgrade is resistant to giving up its political presence and control.

Even though Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is the dominant political party in the four Serb municipalities, the DSS also has a large following. The conservative pro-Russian party strongly opposes EU integration as well as any kind of negotiation with Albanians from Kosovo and their political representatives. Also, a significant majority of the 50,000 Serbs in the region reject Kosovan institutions and want more power for Belgrade.

“In every way possible, the state will help the Serbs who have remained in Kosovo-Metohija and are protecting the “Serb homeland” and Serbia, even though it does not have the capabilities that it had prior to 1999," Vucic said.

Serbian security forces were ordered by the international community to withdraw from Kosovo in 1999.

Serbia will hold parliamentary elections April 24. Insistence on Kosovo still being part of Serbia and the claim that “Kosovo is Serbia’s heart” have been among the most important principles of almost all political parties in Serbia, especially in their election rhetoric, since 1999. Official visits to Kosovo have been received very emotionally and often motivate people to go and vote. Thus, Vucic’s visit is seen as one of the most important steps in his ongoing campaign.  

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