Tear gas attack in Kosovan parliament ahead of controversial vote

Tear gas attack in Kosovan parliament ahead of controversial vote
By Dimitar Koychev in Sofia August 10, 2016

An opposition lawmaker released tear gas in Kosovo's parliament and an unknown person threw a hand grenade at an official's house on August 9, two days before a parliament vote to ratify a controversial agreement on border demarcation with Montenegro.

Kosovo’s opposition parties are against the border demarcation agreement, which was signed by Kosovo and Montenegro on August 26, 2015. It has become one of the two main causes of a deep political crisis in the country. The opposition and border region residents allege that the deal deprives Kosovo of several thousand hectares of land.

On August 9, Driton Caushi, an MP from the largest opposition party Self Determination (Vetevendosje), opened a tear gas canister during a meeting of a parliamentary committee reviewing the border proposal. Caushi was arrested, and his party has called for his immediate release.

Despite the incident, the draft ratification document was passed to the parliament’s presidency, the parliament said in a statement. A voting session of the assembly will now be scheduled, most probably for August 11.

Also on August 9, a hand grenade was thrown at the house of the head of the government commission for demarcation, Murat Meha, according to a separate parliament statement. The weapon did not go off and was detonated in a controlled blast, Reuters reported.

Parliament speaker Kadri Veseli said the incident “ constitutes a punishable act and also a warning”. He spoke out about “disturbing trends to trample the rule of law in Kosovo ... Our citizens must have confidence that Kosovo is fully capable of ensuring their security, public order and the rule of law.”

Ratification of the deal requires a two-thirds majority, which the ruling coalition is unlikely to be able to muster. It is unlikely to be able to persuade any opposition MPs to back the deal, and some of its own members are reportedly wavering.

The government, the US and the EU have been pushing for the deal to be accepted, and reject the allegations that Kosovo would lose land.

At a press conference on August 9, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa told journalists, "I can guarantee that Kosovo is not losing a single centimetre of its land."

Mustafa also indicated that the protests were designed to raise the profile of the opposition among voters. “I am convinced that if the opposition which today is challenging this agreement without any solid argument was in power it would today vote with both hands,” the prime minister said.

“Manipulation of this process ... is not only politically damaging, but it is dangerous to revive the cycle of violence, endangering people's lives and for endangering the stability of the country,” the prime minister added. He indicated a no-tolerance stance on future violence, calling on the police and law enforcement agencies to do whatever needed to prevent future incidents.

Opposition lawmakers have warned said that the protests will continue. In 2015 and 2016, the opposition has released repeatedly tear gas in the parliament and has held protests against the border deal, as well as against an agreement with Serbia about the formation of an Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities.

Previously, an explosive device was thrown at the Kosovan parliament on the evening of August 4, hours after the government adopted the bill on ratifying the deal with Montenegro and sent it to the parliament.

The EU has set ratification as one of two conditions to be fulfilled before the European Parliament (EP) and Council adopt a proposal from the European Commission for lifting visa requirements for the people of Kosovo.

On July 5, EP rapporteur Tanja Fajon decided to postpone the vote on a visa-free regime for Kosovo from July to September, because of the country’s failure “to make sufficient progress in fulfilling the last criterion, particularly the ratification of a border regime with Montenegro." Fajon also said, “I sincerely hope that the Kosovo parliament will ratify the agreement as soon as possible, before the summer recess, to make it possible for me to continue the voting procedure in the autumn.”