News 24 Jan 15

Clashes Erupt as Thousands Protest in Kosovo

Protesters clashed with police as several thousand people rallied in Pristina for the sacking of a Serb minister and for Kosovo to take full control of the huge Trepca mine complex from Belgrade.

Una Hajdari
Around 7,000 protesters gathered in Pristina. | Photo: Una Hajdari

Stone-throwing protesters attacked the government building on Saturday and a fire broke out on central Mother Theresa Square amid clashes with police who fired tear gas as anger flared at one of the largest protests in Kosovo since it declared independence in 2008.

Some 7,000 protesters, according to police estimates, were demanding the sacking of Minister for Communities and Returns Aleksandar Jablanovic, who is accused of insulting Albanians who blockaded Serb pilgrims at Orthodox Christmas.

Albin Kurti, head of Vetevendosje | Photo: Una Hajdari

“We will give Prime Minister Isa Mustafa time until 6 pm on Monday to remove Minister Jablanovic from his post. If not, we will protest again on Tuesday at noon,” said Albin Kurti, the head of the nationalist Vetevendosje (Self Determination) opposition party, which organised the protest alongside the Mother’s Call NGO.

The rally was a culmination of a wave of protests all over Kosovo for the past two weeks for the removal of Jablanovic, a Serb minister in the Kosovo government who sparked anger when he described Albanian protesters who picketed and threw ice at Serb pilgrims visiting a church in Gjakova/Djakovica at Orthodox Christmas on January 6 as “savages”.

“Jablanovic offended us. The entire world knows what happened in Kosovo, Jablanovic doesn’t know even though he was born here,” one protester, Safete Pula from Gjakova/Djakovica, told BIRN.

Gjakova/Djakovica was the scene of heavy fighting and many deaths during the conflict between Yugoslav forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army. Jablanovic has since apologised for his statement, claiming he was unaware of what had happened in there during the war.

Special police units intervened when the protests escalated. | Photo: Una Hajdari

As well as the sacking of Jablanovic, protesters were calling for the Trepca mine complex, the subject of dispute between Pristina and Belgrade, to be taken under Kosovo state control.

A vote on the issue in the Kosovo parliament was postponed on Monday after pressure from Belgrade, causing demonstrators to vent their anger at Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, who they accuse of giving in to Serbia.

Driton Caushi, the head of the Vetevendosje branch in Gjakova/Djakovica, who has been organising protests in the town over the past two weeks, said the government had failed to push forward Kosovo’s interests on the ownership of Trepca.

“Finally the people of Kosovo are showing their discontent with the government. They should not be representing these people. Isa Mustafa does not serve the people, he serves Serb fascism,” Caushi said.

Protesters carried placards with slogans like “Either with Jablanovic or with the people”, “All of Kosovo supports Trepca”, and “Trepca will work, Kosovo will be built”.

“This has been taking too long. The inefficiency of the government has gone too far. We need to show them that we are not happy with the way things are going,” said protester Remzije Murati.

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