Thousands protested in Kosovo’s capital Pristina on Wednesday (17 February), demanding the government’s resignation and snap elections as the poor Balkan country marked the eighth anniversary of its independence from Serbia.
Anger has simmered in the country since the government signed an EU-brokered accord with Serbia in August, giving Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority greater local government powers and the possibility of financing from Belgrade.
The protest, organised by opposition parties who reject the accord, followed a similar one on 9 January, when demonstrators set fire to the government’s headquarters.
Protesters on Wednesday, carrying banners reading “We don’t want Serbia in Kosovo” and “There is no state with thieves”, demanded the government resign within 10 days and call elections.
Eight years after ethnic Albanians joyously declared Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, chaotic scenes of MPs releasing tear gas in their parliament hardly gives the impression of a successfully functioning state.
Opposition party leaders said their representatives would disrupt the next parliament session scheduled for Friday. They have previously caused unrest in parliament and have threatened
to keep organising protests until the government, elected in December 2014, resigns.
“Kosovo is at a crossroads and we want to go down the right path which is early elections,” Fatmir Limaj, leader of the opposition party NISMA, told the crowd.
Kosovo, which is majority Albanian, is not due to hold elections until June 2018.
The number of people protesting is disputed — police said 15,000 joined the protest, while opposition parties put the number at more than 100,000.
The government has accused opposition party leaders of organising violence and attempting to drag the country into “crime and anarchy.”
“They (opposition parties) want to ruin the state,” Prime Minister Isa Mustafa told a press conference on Wednesday, urging opposition parties to attend the parliament session.
Many Kosovo Albanians believe the accord with Serbia represents a threat to Kosovo’s hard-won sovereignty. The deal has been put on hold for now after Kosovo’s highest court ruled in December that some parts of it were in breach of the country’s constitution.
Opposition parties also reject a demarcating border accord with Montenegro, saying it gives Kosovo land to its neighbour.
Kosovo 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.