PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Hundreds of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo protested Friday to pressure the government into allowing them to vote in neighboring Serbia’s April 3 general election.
Demonstrators gathered in Mitrovica, 45 kilometers (28 miles) 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 kilometers (6 miles) 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 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 U.K. expressed “concern at the risk of escalation or violence” Friday 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.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. and the four European countries – collectively known as the Quint – criticized Kosovo’s rejection of what they called their “constructive proposal” for allowing the Balkan nation’s ethnic Serb minority to vote in Serbia’s election. They did not say what the rejected proposal entailed.
A bloody 1998-1999 bloody conflict between Serbia and Albanian separatists in Kosovo, then a Serbian province, left more than 12,000 people dead and about 1,600 still missing. NATO’s intervention in the form of a bombing campaign on Serbia ended the war.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by the United States and most EU nations. Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo as separate nation after 11 years of EU-brokered negotiations.
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