10 June 2007

Police use tear gas to disperse Kosovo protest

Agence France Presse, 10 février 2007 16:21


PRISTINA, Serbia, Feb 10, 2007 (AFP)


ATTENTION -reports on injured, details ///


Anti-riot police units used tear gas Saturday to disperse some 2,000 protestors from the radical pro-independence youth movement in the Kosovo capital.


The ethnic Albanian "Self-determination" youth movement, which is seeking Kosovo's independence without any negotiations, has called for a protest against the UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari's proposal for the future status of the southern Serbian province.


"With such politicians as ours, the independence (of Kosovo) will remain just a dream," said the group's leader Albin Kurti.


Some 2,000 protestors gathered close to the provincial government building in Pristina's city center, but a strong anti-riot police cordon prevented them from approaching the premises.


"Freedom doesn't come in packages," they chanted in a reference to Ahtisaari's plan.


Police riposted with tear gas as the mostly young protestors tried to break through the cordon and enter the building.


Several armoured vehicles belonging to the UN police also arrived at the scene of the clash, while several policemen used batons to stop the protestors.


An AFP reporter at the scene saw at least three protestors and one policeman injured in clashes in the main street of the Kosovo capital.


Police units were soon backed by Italian carabinieri soldiers, members of NATO-led peacekeeping troops, while UN police armoured vehicles sealed off the main road.


However, a group of about 100 most radical protestors remained on the street in a tense stand-off with security units. Dozens of people were seen in the surrounding streets, watching scuffles between police and demonstrators.


"We have to disperse them, the protest must not spread," one policeman told AFP.


Last November, the "Self-determination" activists held a similar protest which police dispersed with tear gas as the protestors threw rocks and bottles at the Kosovo's parliament and United Nations headquarters in Pristina.


Kosovo has been administered by UNMIK since mid-1999, after a NATO bombing campaign ended a brutal crackdown by Serbian forces against the province's ethnic-Albanian majority.


In the talks led by Ahtisaari, Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who comprise around 90 percent of the province's two million people, sought independence from Serbia, something vehemently opposed by Belgrade.


After more than nine months of talks between Belgrade and Pristina in 2006 failed to bring any results, Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland, drafted his own solution.


Although it does not mention independence, Ahtisaari's plan offers Kosovo self-governance, a constitution, anthem and flag, as well as the right to join international organisations.


Belgrade and Pristina teams were expected to discuss the proposal in the final round of talks starting on February 21.


Ahtisaari said in New York that he expected the final status of Kosovo to be settled well before the end of the German presidency of the European Union at the end of June.