Violence mars Kosovo's Nov 3 local elections, turnout relatively low

By bne IntelliNews November 4, 2013

The voter turnout in Kosovo's key November 3 local elections, which should lead to the creation of a community of Serb municipalities in the north, is calculated at only 47.8%, according to the latest figures from the Central Election Commission (CEC) based on 94% of the ballots counted.

Voting in one of the northern municipalities - Mitrovica, closed a couple of hours earlier after several masked persons broke into three schools housing polling stations, lobbing tear gas and smashing ballot boxes. 

According to Balkan Insight, no one was reported injured but the incidents served to discourage voting and might lead to the elections results from Mitrovica declared invalid. Before that, throughout the day, Serb hardliners stood outside polling stations in northern Kosovo intimidating Serb voters and campaigning for a boycott of the vote.

Following the outbreaks of violence, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which had a key role in organising the polls in northern Kosovo, said it was withdrawing its staff from Mitrovica, on the grounds that their security was compromised. A spokesman for OSCE has confirmed to Al Jazeera that 60 members of their mission had withdrawn from three electoral areas due to security concerns. Later, a large number of KFOR members were deployed to the area, Al Jazeera reported.

The head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Ambassador Jean-Claude Schlumberger, told a press conference late on Sunday, that OSCE will not seek to annul the results from northern Kosovo, daily Gazeta Tribuna reported. He said that CEC will decide the fate of the elections.

The latest CEC figures for the turnout do not include results from three of the four mostly Serb-populated and ethnically divided municipalities as they are yet to come. The final results of the elections will be released on November 6.

Meanwhile, the Special Representative of the UN's Secretary General for Kosovo, Farid Zarif, has characterised the acts of violence as hooliganism that has no place in civilized and democratic societies.

Serbian minister for Kosovo and Metohija Aleksandar Vulin also denounced the violent attacks, saying Serbia would undertake legal measures against its citizens involved in the acts.

Media has reported two other violent incidents - one involving the murder of an Albanian local council candidate. Bekim Birinxhiku, a candidate for a council seat from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) was killed in Skenderaj/Srbica by an off-duty policeman in an attack on Saturday, Al Jazeera reported.

Local police spokesperson Ibrahim Sadriu told the international media outlet that the policeman had a personal dispute with Birinxhiku and the killing was not politically motivated.

Furthermore, Krstimir Pantic, a candidate for mayor of the Mitrovica, has said that on Friday two masked men attacked him outside his apartment building and that he later received hospital treatment for a chin injury.

Despite the violence and other acts of intimidation, Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaha said the elections were successful. The polls are a key element of the EU-brokered deal from April of this year that aims to normalise relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

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