Kosovo opposition stages tear gas protest in parliament

Dissenters angry at agreements made with Serbia bypass tight security for second week running.

Plans to launch an association of Serb-run municipalities giving autonomy to Kosovo's Serb minority has angered the opposition [Hazit Reka/Reuters]
Plans to launch an association of Serb-run municipalities giving autonomy to Kosovo's Serb minority has angered the opposition [Hazit Reka/Reuters]

Kosovo’s opposition disrupted parliament by throwing tear gas in the chamber for a second week running, in protest at agreements made with Serbia.

Despite tight security at the entrance to prevent a repeat of last week’s chaotic scenes, opposition MPs smuggled in tear gas canisters and set them off on Thursday before the session could begin.

Before the gas was released, protesting MPs had gathered around the podium to prevent any debate.

“The opposition has enough gas to block any session,” Glauk Konjufca of the Self-Determination party, which leads the opposition bloc, told reporters outside parliament.

The dissenters are angry at EU-brokered dialogue and agreements with Serbia, particularly a plan to set up an association of Serb-run municipalities giving greater autonomy to Kosovo’s Serb minority.

The government says this association will not hold executive powers, but the opposition believes the move will deepen the ethnic divide and increase Serbia’s power in Kosovo.

It also rejects a border agreement reached with neighbouring Montenegro in Vienna in August, through which it says Kosovo is losing territory.

Kosovo, whose population is predominantly ethnic Albanian, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade fiercely rejected the move and still considers the breakaway territory as its southern province.

Illegal and anarchic

About 100 protesters in Pristina gathered outside and cheered as MPs left the building after the parliament’s president was forced to call off Thursday’s session.

The government issued a statement condemning the “illegal and anarchic acts” of the opposition as “inconsistent with any code of ethics, morals and democratic practice”.

But the protesters, who have also blown whistles and thrown eggs to disrupt recent sessions, have vowed to keep obstructing parliament until the government backs down from the contentious deals.

“Only the withdrawal from these agreements will bring back social and institutional normality in Kosovo,” the parties of the opposition bloc said in a joint declaration.

The clouds of tear gas released in last week’s protest caused two MPs to faint and the US embassy in Kosovo said some of its personnel who were in the chamber at the time had to seek medical treatment.

Agron Bajrami, editor-in-chief of the daily Koha Ditore, said Kosovo’s opposition had “remained marginalised” since the formation of a large ruling coalition following last year’s elections. 

The agreements reached with Serbia without consultation with the opposition or parliament “was the ideal opportunity to challenge the authority and legitimacy of the government”, Bajrami said.

Kosovo and Serbia were at war in 1998-1999, which ended after Serbian armed forces withdrew from the territory following an 11-week NATO bombing campaign.

Source : AFP

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