09 July 2007

Riot police break up protest in Kosovo by ethnic Albanians

Associated Press, Saturday, February 10, 2007 1:58 PM


PRISTINA, Serbia-Riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at thousands of ethnic Albanians who demonstrated in Pristina on Saturday against a U.N. proposal for Kosovo they say does not go far enough in granting the province independence.


Some 70 protesters requested medical assistance, mainly from the effects of tear gas, while eight were injured, four seriously, police spokesman Veton Elshani said. Police said 15 protesters were arrested and eight officers were hurt.


AP reporters at the scene said they saw at least two injured men covered in blood being carried away.


U.N. and Kosovo police broke up the protest after demonstrators tried to charge a security cordon and head toward a government building throwing stones and sticks at the officers. An estimated 3,000 people, many carrying banners reading "No negotiation, Self-determination", took part in the rally on a main street in Kosovo's capital.


A U.N. car was overturned and its windows shattered as police and smaller groups of protesters continued clashes in side streets and back alleys before they dispersed.


By late Saturday, police said streets in Pristina had been reopened and the city was returning to normal.


Chief U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari unveiled his proposal for Kosovo's future status a week ago. The plan does not explicitly call for Kosovo's independence from Serbia, but spells out conditions for self-rule, including a flag, anthem, army and constitution, and the right to apply for membership in international organizations.


Kosovo's Serb minority would have a high degree of control over their own affairs.


"We're demonstrating against Ahtisaari's package, which does not reflect the will of the people of Kosovo, but only the privileges of one minority, the Serb minority, which is being manipulated by Serbia," said Albin Kurti, the leader of the protest group.


He said they were also protesting against ethnic Albanian leaders who made "many concessions to Serbia without bringing independence."


Protesters marched and stood still for an hour before clashing with police units, which deployed at the government building and sealed off the U.N. mission headquarters in the province.


After the protest ended, police arrested Kurti in the group's offices, said Glauk Konjufca, an activist. Police confirmed the arrest.


The plan, which needs approval from U.N. Security Council to come into force, was endorsed by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders but rejected by Serbian officials in Belgrade who refuse to give up the province, considered Serbia's historic heartland.


On Saturday, protesters said the plan did not reflect the will of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, which they said want independence, not just an internationally supervised statehood.


Protest organizers say the self-rule envisioned for Kosovo's Serb minority could lead to the creation of a separate Serb entity within Kosovo.


Activists also rejected parts of the plan that call for the establishment of a new international mission that would have powers to annul decisions or laws that run against the plan itself. The group also criticized ethnic Albanian leaders for negotiating with Serbia. Talks between the two sides are to resume Feb. 21.


Kosovo has been run by the U.N. since mid-1999, when NATO launched an air war to halt a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. The conflict in Kosovo left some 10,000 people killed, most of them ethnic Albanians.


The group has held many protests against the U.N. administration in the province, and opposed yearlong talks with Serbia over Kosovo's future.