At least 15,000 Kosovans participated in an anti-government rally in Pristina on February 17, the eighth anniversary of the country's independence. The protestors demanded the government’s resignation and early elections.
Warnings of violent protests on February 17 proved to be unfounded, despite earlier announcements from opposition leaders that the day would mark the start of an attempt to overthrow the government.
There is significant uncertainty concerning the number of people who participated in the protest. According to the police there were 15,000 people, Reuters reported, whereas the opposition Vetevendosje (Self Determination) movement claimed that there were over 100,000.
The demonstration was organized by Vetevendosje and fellow opposition parties the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and Incentive for Kosovo. The opposition is against EU-brokered deals struck by Pristina with Serbia, giving more rights to Serbs in Kosovo, and a border demarcation deal with Montenegro. There is especially strong opposition to an agreement on the formation of an association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo.
Opposition leaders gave the government until February 27 to announce snap elections, after which protests will be “intensive and sustained”, Vetevendosje’s statement said.
Reuters quoted opposition party leaders as saying that their representatives would disrupt the next parliament session on February 19, when the election of Kosovo’s next president is due to be discussed. Kosovo’s foreign minister and former prime minister Hashim Thaci is expected to become the country’s next president, under a deal between his party and its coalition partner the People's Movement of Kosovo (LPK). The president is elected by the parliament.
In his independence day address, prime minister Isa Mustafa referred to the “unpleasant events” in Kosovo in recent months. “Our people say: ‘family feud find in every room of the house’. There is a feud in this room of the house. This feud will soon end, because the state will not surrender to violence,” Mustafa said according to a statement on the government’s website.
Previous opposition protests have ended in violent clashes with police. The first protest in 2016 was held on January 9, when protestors set fire to a government building. Last year, opposition lawmakers staged several tear gas attacks in the parliament in Pristina aimed at forcing the government to withdraw from the agreement with Serbia.
On December 23, Kosovo's constitutional court approved the creation of the municipal association, but also said that some of the deal’s principles are not fully in line with the constitution, and should be altered before its implementation.