An Albanian local council candidate has been killed and a Serb candidate for mayor has been injured in separate attacks, as tensions remain high ahead of Sunday’s local elections in Kosovo.
More than 5,000 police have been deployed to guard polling stations in Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, but which Serbia does not recognise.
Kosovo police confirmed to Al Jazeera that Bekim Birinxhiku, a candidate for a council seat from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) was killed in Skenderaj/Srbica, west of the Kosovo capital, Pristina, in an attack on Saturday.
An off-duty policeman who had a personal dispute with Birinxhiku killed the candidate, shooting at him using his police-issued firearm from a moving car, police spokesperson Ibrahim Sadriu said.
The off-duty officer later surrendered to police and his gun was seized. Police say the killing was not politically motivated.
Birinxhiku, 38, a former Kosovo Liberation Army fighter, was a candidate of the AAK party. AAK’s leader is Ramush Haradinaj, Kosovo’s former prime minister, who was acquitted of war crimes last year at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at the Hague.
Earlier on Saturday, Krstimir Pantic, a candidate for mayor of the divided northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica/Kosovska Mitrovica, said he was attacked late on Friday in what he described as an “execution attempt”.
Pantic is a mayoral candidate of the Civil Initiative Srpska, the only one of 33 Serb electoral lists in the Kosovo elections backed by the Serbian Government.
Pantic said two masked men attacked him outside his apartment building and that he later received hospital treatment for a chin injury.
Pantic said he hoped this would be the last politically motivated attack on Serbs in Mitrovica/Kosovska Mitrovica.
At a press conference in Belgrade, where he spoke alongside Pantic, Serbian Parliament Speaker Nebojsa Stefanovic said Pantic represented Serbia and that an attack on him was an attack on the state.
He and Aleksandar Vulin, the Serbian minister in charge of Kosovo, appealed to Serbs in Kosovo to vote in the elections on Sunday.
Tensions have been running high ahead of the polls and divisions are rife within the Serb community in Kosovo.
Special security measures are being put in place in northern Kosovo, where Serbs are divided into those who are for and those against taking part in the Kosovo elections.
The international community, as well as the governments of Kosovo and Serbia, have repeatedly appealed on voters to participate in the elections.
Officially, the Kosovo government only allows visits of Serbian officials on religious or humanitarian grounds, but Vulin angered Pristina by campaigning for Civil Initiative Srpska in Kosovo . On one of the visits, he wore a black jacket and a Serbian flag patch on his sleeve, which Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci described as a paramilitary uniform.
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On Friday, Vulin returned to Kosovo, wearing a suit, alongside Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, for the final rally of Civil Initiative Srpska.
Vucic and Vulin called on Kosovo Serbs to participate in the election, saying only their votes would ensure the formation of the Association of Serb Councils after the polls, as stipulated by the Brussels Agreement on the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia signed in April.
Serbs make up less than a tenth of the population of Kosovo and they are deeply divided. A smaller number of them live north of the river Ibar. Most of their political leaders reject the integration of northern Kosovo into Pristina’s political system.
A larger number of Serbs live south of the river Ibar in several enclaves surrounded by majority Albanian towns. The Serb enclaves are mostly now councils which would enter the Association following the elections.
Kosovo president Atifete Jahjaga on Saturday chaired a security meeting ahead of Sunday’s polls.
“The votes of Kosovo citizens are untouchable and free. Each attempt to manipulate the votes of the citizens of the Republic of Kosovo will be sanctioned with the greatest force,” Jahjaga said.
If needed, The European Union’s police mission EULEX and NATO’s Kosovo force KFOR are available on stand by to support Kosovo police on election day.
Polls open at 7:00am (06:00 GMT) and close at 7:00pm local time (18:00 GMT). The first unofficial results are expected late on Sunday and the official results will be released on November 6.
There are 103 electoral lists – of those 38 are Albanian, 33 Serb, while the other are the lists of independent candidates and minority ethnic groups – Bosniaks, Turks, Roma, Montenegrins, Croats, Gorani and Ashkali.
Voters will elect mayors and councillors, who have a four-year mandate. There are 224 mayoral candidates and 7,740 councillor candidates.
More than 1.7 million people are eligible to vote and more than 28,000 monitors will oversee the election.
Follow Selma Milovanovic on Twitter: @SelmaAJB