Kosovo opposition set fire to government building in escalating protests

Kosovo opposition set fire to government building in escalating protests
By Valentina Dimitrievska January 10, 2016

Kosovo opposition set fire to a government building in Pristina during protests held on January 9, which turned violent and left a dozen injured, police said.

This was the first protest of 2016, and one in a series of demonstration against the deal reached with Serbia in August 2015, which gives Serbs more rights in Kosovo, and the border demarcation deal with Montenegro. It was also the most serious protest since Pristina reached the agreement with Belgrade last summer.

Opposition parties, for which these agreements are seen as damaging to Kosovo, urged the government to cancel them and, if not, to organise a referendum or early elections.

The police said in a statement that some 8,000 people participated in the protest, which started at 1400 local time at the National Library in Pristina.

A group of protestors threw stones, Molotov cocktails and other devices at police officers. They also damaged traffic signs, set fire to containers and caused damage to police vehicles and other public property. The damage is estimated to be considerable.

Twenty four police officers, four citizens and one journalist were injured during the protests.

Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. They also arrested 34 protestors for violent behaviour and possession of knives, Molotov cocktails and other dangerous materials.

The Kosovan government was quick to release a statement condemning the violent protests led by leaders of the opposition: the Vetevendosje party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and the Initiative for Kosovo.

"The government considers the protest as a direct attack on the constitutional order of Kosovo, by burning part of the government building, throwing Molotov cocktail and other objects at police officers and conducting other acts of violence against citizens, public and private property," the statement said.

The government also stressed that such behaviour damages Kosovo’s partnership with the US and the European Union, and prevents the visa liberalisation process and the process of EU integration.

Deputy prime minister Hashim Thaci maintained that there are no reason for the protests since the deals are in line with EU requirements and backed by the US, which is a strategic partner, but that the opposition has used them as a pretext for seizing power by force. He also noted a day before the latest protest that there would be no early elections.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after the eleven week Nato bombing campaign. The campaign forced the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was a part, to pull out of the province.

However, Belgrade and Pristina are now under pressure from the EU to normalise relations as part of their path towards EU membership.

In regards to the contested deal with Serbia, Kosovo's constitutional court on December 23 said that some of the principles are not fully in line with the constitution, and should be altered before the implementation of the deal.

The constitutional court in Pristina suspended the implementation of the EU-brokered landmark deal with Serbia in November, after Kosovo failed in its bid to become a member of UNESCO, in the face of Serbian opposition.