PRISTINA, KOSOVO (AP) – Hundreds of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo protested yesterday to pressure the government into allowing them to vote in neighbouring Serbia’s April 3 general election.
Demonstrators gathered in Mitrovica, 45 kilometres north of Pristina, with banners reading ‘We want our human rights’ and ‘Kurti won’t drive us away from Kosovo’, and marched to a bridge that divides the city. Most of Kosovo’s ethnic Serb population lives north of Mitrovica, close to Serbia’s border.
Hundreds of people also protested in Gracanica, a commune located 10 kilometres from Kosovo’s capital where ethnic Serbs residents are concentrated.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti has said Kosovo and Serbia need to have a preliminary agreement on holding the election to permit the voting. In a letter to the European Union (EU) office in Pristina, Kurti wrote that “Serbia’s illegal structures are trying to hold an election in our territory as if our government did not exist”, the Kosovapress news agency reported.
In previous Serbian elections, ethnic Serbs in Kosovo voted there under monitoring by international observers. That did not happen when Serbia held a referendum earlier this year.
The United States, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom expressed “concern at the risk of escalation or violence” yesterday and urged demonstrators to protest peacefully.
They also called on Kosovo and Serbia “to act with restraint and refrain from any rhetoric or action that could increase tensions”.