Fire breaks out at Kosovo government HQ as protests flare

Special police forces stand with riot shields during a protest in Kosovo's capital Pristina, January 9, 2016.

Special police forces stand with riot shields during a protest in Kosovo’s capital Pristina, January 9, 2016.

Demonstrators in Kosovo fought running battles with police and set fire to the government’s headquarters on Saturday as anger simmers in the young Balkan country over an accord with former ruler, Serbia.

The seat of government in the capital, Pristina, briefly caught fire after it came under a hail of petrol bombs. Firefighters quickly doused the flames and police used tear gas to drive back several thousand opposition demonstrators.

They were protesting a European Union-brokered deal to give Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority greater local government powers and the possibility of financing from Belgrade. Opposition leaders say the government should resign over the accord and call an early election.

Police said 14 people were hurt in Saturday’s unrest including 10 police officers and two journalists. Two dozen protesters were arrested and others gathered into the evening, some still throwing fireworks at police.

Earlier in the day, demonstrators hurled petrol bombs, stones and bottles and set light to several armoured police cars.

Kosovo’s president, Atifete Jahjaga, condemned the unrest, which was the most serious since the bilateral agreement was signed in August.

“Setting fire to the country’s institutions is totally unacceptable,” she said in a statement. “I condemn the vandalism against the public property and the use of tools that put in danger the life of the citizens and security forces.”

Kosovo, which is majority Albanian, declared independence from Serbia with Western support in 2008, almost a decade after NATO air strikes drove out Serbian security forces accused of killing and expelling civilians from the ethnic Albanian majority during a counter-insurgency war.

Serbia does not recognise its former southern province as independent, but both are under pressure from the EU to normalise their relations if they are to progress towards membership of the bloc.

Many Kosovo Albanians believe the accord with Serbia represents a threat to Kosovo’s hard-won sovereignty, now recognised by more than 100 countries including the major Western powers.

Protests against the deal have frequently turned violent over the past year and opposition MPs have repeatedly disrupted the work of parliament by releasing tear gas in the chamber.


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