Kosovan capital rocked by violent protests

By bne IntelliNews January 28, 2015

bne IntelliNews -


Police used tear gas against protesters in the Kosovan capital Pristina in the second day of demonstrations triggered by the government’s climbdown over plans to take over the Trepca mining complex.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Pristina on January 27. In addition to anger over Trepca, where Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s government is seen as bowing to pressure from Serbia, protesters also demanded the resignation of ethnic Serb minister Aleksandar Jablanovic.

Police were attacked with rocks and Molotov cocktails, according to a government statement. Deliberate damage to both government and private property was also reported. At least 37 people including 22 police officers were injured in street fighting between protesters and police, Reuters reported. More than 120 were arrested.

The protest follows another mass protest on January 24, when around 10,000 people gathered in central Pristina. The earlier demonstration also erupted into violence, when protesters threw stones at a government building. Around 20 police officers were injured.

Tensions increased sharply in Kosovo, as the parliament prepared to vote on a new law on  public enterprises, which would have paved the way for Pristina to take over the giant Trepca Mining, Metallurgical and Chemical Combine, on November 19.

However, Mustafa informed the parliament at the last minute that the draft law had been removed from the agenda. Mustafa is believed to have conceded to pressure from the international community, who feared the impact an attempt to take over Trepca - which is also claimed by Serbia - would have had on relations with Belgrade.

The plans had angered Serbian officials, with Serbian Prime Minister Alexandar Vucic warning on January 16 that the move would pose a serious threat to attempts to normalise relations between Serbia and Kosovo. There were fears it would trigger unrest between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the Kosovo-Metohija area where the mine is located.

Protesters in Pristina also demanded the sacking of Jablanovic, one of three ethnic Serb ministers in the Kosovan government. Jablanovic angered many Kosovans when he slammed a group of Albanians who tried to stop Serb pilgrims visiting a monastery during Orthodox Christmas as “savages”. Although Jablanovic has since apologised, demands for him to quit his post as communities minister have persisted.

Kosovo’s new government, which took power in December following six months of political deadlock, says the protests, organised by opposition parties including the nationalist Vetëvendosje (Self Determination) movement, were politically motivated.

Mustafa told a press conference on January 27 that the violence had done “tremendous harm to our new state”.

“The government condemns violence by the protesters, resulting in extreme escalation of the situation and endangering the security of the constitutional order of the Republic of Kosovo,” Mustafa said.

He also indicated that the protests, organised by opposition parties, could be an attempt to grab power. “Protests should not be used to fulfill the ambitions for power, because power is gained only by the free vote of the citizens of Kosovo, not by force and through violence,” he added.

President Atifete Jahjaga also issued a statement describing the violence and attacks on property as “unacceptable”. Jahjaga called on political leaders to “distance themselves from acts of violence which are severely damaging our new country".

Vetëvendosje had previously expected to form part of Kosovo’s new government after the June 2014 elections, alongside Mustafa’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and Initiative for Kosovo. However, after a six-month deadlock during which outgoing Prime Minister Hashim Thaci appeared determined not to relinquish his hold on power, the LDK struck a coalition deal with Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo.

Kosovo’s population is mainly ethnic Albanian but the small republic has a sizable ethnic Serb minority in the north, which looks to Belgrade rather than Pristina for leadership. Many Serbs consider Kosovo to be an integral part of Serbia.

Kosovo broke away from Serbia after a war of independence in 1998-1999, in which more than 10,000 died. So far, Kosovo, which became independent in 2008, has been recognised by 108 countries worldwide, but Serbia remains adamant it will not recognise its former province and Russian support for Belgrade’s position has so far kept Kosovo out of the UN.

Both NATO peacekeepers and EU police officers are present in Kosovo, but neither have yet intervened, leaving it to the Kosovan police to handle the demonstrations. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) issued a statement expressing concern over the “recent violent events” in Pristina. “Such acts have nothing to do with the exercise of the democratic right to express legitimate grievances," the statement says. It adds that it is “the responsibility of the Kosovo Police to ensure public safety and to take appropriate action”.

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