23 January 2007

U.N. police fire tear gas at protesters in Kosovo

Associated Press, Tuesday, November 28, 2006 10:55 AM

PRISTINA, Serbia-United Nations police in Kosovo fired tear gas Tuesday to disperse protesters who overturned a concrete barrier shielding the U.N. headquarters in the capital Pristina.

Some three thousand ethnic Albanians rallied outside the building to protest ongoing talks with Serbia on the future of the province, which is currently part of Serbia but under U.N. administration.

Before reaching the U.N. premises protesters pelted the provincial  government's building with stones and splashed red paint, symbolizing blood,  on its walls. No injuries or arrests were immediately reported.
The demonstration was called by a group known as "Self-determination" that is opposed to U.N. brokered negotiations between Kosovo leaders and Serbia's officials.

Kosovo has been run by the U.N. since 1999, when NATO bombing ended a crackdown by Belgrade on separatist ethnic Albanian rebels. Since February, the U.N. has been mediating talks to determine the province's final status. The majority ethnic Albanians want independence, but its Serb minority and Belgrade want Kosovo to remain part of Serbia.

Tuesday's rally came a day after police increased security measures following unspecified threats against U.N. personnel serving as part of the administration that runs the province. The organization said the threats were serious and credible.

Members of "Self-determination" have vandalized U.N. vehicles and the headquarters building in the past. The head of the group, former student leader Albin Kurti, has been apprehended several times.

Recently, Kurti held rallies in Kosovo's rural areas calling for an end to the status talks, claiming that decentralization - a central part of the negotiations aimed at improving the rights of minorities - would split the province into an ethic Albanian part and a Serb-controlled part.

"We believe Kosovo does not lack status, but the people of Kosovo lack freedom and that is freedom to self-determination," Kurti told AP.