Kosovo political crisis worsens after third tear gas attack

Kosovo political crisis worsens after third tear gas attack
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje October 25, 2015

Ten people were arrested in violent protests in Pristina on the night of October 23-24, after opposition lawmakers staged a third tear gas attack in the parliament in protest against an EU-brokered deal with Serbia and a separate agreement with Montenegro.

The latest incidents are a sign of the further deepening of the Kosovan political crisis, which threatens to damage investor confidence and derail the country’s EU integration progress.

The protests took place just days before the signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union planned for October 27, which is seen as an important achievement by the Kosovan authorities. The landmark deal with Serbia, agreed in Brussels on August 25, is also a vital step towards EU integration for both countries.

Kosovan police had been asked by the parliament to provide security during the session on October 23, as disruptions were expected. They intervened to disperse the protesters gathered outside the assembly when they became violent, at the same time as opposition lawmakers tried to disrupt the session by setting off two tear gas devices.

A group of 150-200 opposition supporters threw petrol bombs, Molotov cocktails and other objects, injuring one police officer. Police placed blockades and containers in the streets around the parliament to prevent the riots from spreading.

The police force has launched an investigation into how the tear gas devices were brought in the parliament despite the tight security control.

The opposition Vetevendosje party had previously vowed to continue obstructing the parliament’s work unless Prime Minister Isa Mustafa withdraws his signature from the August 25 deal with Serbia which, among other things, gives more rights to the Serb minority in Kosovo. They also want an agreement on demarcation of the Kosovo-Montenegro border to be scrapped.

“The exclusion of the opposition from the political discussions before the damaging agreements were signed, has brought Kosova [to] this dangerous crisis,” Vetevendosje said in a statement on October 23. “The united opposition is set to continue the blocking of the institutions, until their requests are heard. Without the consensus of the opposition, decisions [on] the territorial integrity of Kosova can not be made.”

A parliament statement said the opposition had “violated [the] safety and health” of fellow MPs as well as blocking the work of the plenary session.

Following the tear gas attacks, lawmakers from the governing coalition initially reconvened in the parliament canteen, later deciding to continue the interrupted session in another hall within the parliament building without the opposition. MPs adopted two draft laws on mental health and breast-feeding promotion, the press office of the assembly said on October 24.

However, the adoption of more important decisions and draft laws, which require a two-third majority, seems uncertain due to the opposition firm’s stance that it will continue boycotting the parliament.

This is the third time opposition lawmakers have carried out tear gas attacks in the assembly. The previous two attacks took place on October 8 and October 15.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on October 23 it is concerned that parliamentary activity has been stalled in recent weeks.

“This is delaying the approval of important legislation, some of which is critical to the government’s economic reform agenda,” the IMF said.

More importantly, for the Fund, is that the situation in the assembly in Pristina risks damaging investor confidence, ultimately to the detriment of all citizens.