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NATO soldiers guard Kosovo town, Serb protesters smash two cars

NATO soldiers guard Kosovo town, Serb protesters smash two cars

Serb protesters smashed two cars belonging to Albanian journalists in Kosovo’s Leposavic town on Tuesday, a day after 30 NATO soldiers and 52 protesters were hurt in clashes, as EU and NATO officials urged calm and de-escalation of the violence.

Unrest in the region has intensified since ethnic Albanian mayors took office in northern Kosovo’s Serb-majority area after April elections the Serbs boycotted, a move that led the U.S. and its allies to rebuke Pristina on Friday.

Masked men approached a car with an Albanian license plate marked as “A2, CNN affiliate” and smashed the windshield, a Reuters reporter who witnessed the incident said. Another car belonging to another media outlet was smashed as well. No one was injured.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Kosovo and Serbian leaders to find a way to de-escalate tensions through dialogue.

“We have too much violence already in Europe today, we cannot afford another conflict,” Borrell told a news briefing in Brussels.

Northern Kosovo’s majority Serbs have never accepted Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and consider Belgrade their capital more than two decades after the Kosovo Albanian uprising against repressive Serbian rule.

Ethnic Albanians make up more than 90% of the population in Kosovo as a whole, but northern Serbs have long demanded the implementation of an EU-brokered 2013 deal for the creation of an association of autonomous municipalities in their area.

Serbs refused to take part in local elections in April and ethnic Albanian candidates won the mayoralties in four Serb-majority municipalities with a 3.5% turnout.

Russia, which has long had close ties with Serbia and shares its Slavic and Orthodox Christian traditions, called on Tuesday for “decisive steps” to quell the unrest in Kosovo.

The Russian foreign ministry urged “the West to finally silence its false propaganda and stop blaming incidents in Kosovo on Serbs driven to despair, who are peaceful, unarmed, trying to defend their legitimate rights and freedoms.”

Moscow helped block Kosovo’s bid for U.N. membership at Belgrade’s request.

Several ethnic Serbs gathered in front of the building in Zvecan but the situation was calm on Tuesday as soldiers from the United States, Italy and Poland stood by in anti-riot gear.

A Kosovo police source who asked not to be named, told Reuters bulldozers were heading north, ready to remove any barricades set by Serbs.

Kosovo authorities have blamed Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic for destabilizing Kosovo. Vucic blames Kosovo authorities for causing problems by installing new mayors.

“In a democracy there is no place for fascist violence—no appeal from ballot to bullet,” Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Twitter late on Monday.

In a statement after meeting ambassadors of the so-called Quint group – the United States, Italy, France, Germany and Britain – in Belgrade, Vucic said he had asked that Albanian mayors are removed from their offices in the north.

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani said criminal gangs, supported by Vucic, aimed to destabilize Kosovo and the entire region.

On Monday, Serb protesters in Zvecan threw tear gas and stun grenades at NATO soldiers, leaving 30 NATO troops hurt, along with 52 Serbs.

“Violent acts against citizens, against media, against law enforcement and KFOR troops are absolutely unacceptable,” EU’s Borrell said.

“KFOR (NATO’s Kosovo force) will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo, in accordance with its mandate,” the NATO force said in a statement.

Source: VOA