Violence and Serb boycott mar Kosovo election
Many of 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo refuse to vote
Kosovo police secure the area in front of the Sveti Sava elementary school polling station in the northern part of the ethnically divided Kosovo town of Mitrovica today. Photograph: Reuters/Marko Djurica
Violence, voter intimidation and a widespread Serb boycott have marred local elections in Kosovo, which were closely watched by the European Union for signs of improving relations between Pristina and Belgrade.
Serb, EU and Kosovo officials urged Kosovo Serbs to vote in the ethnically divided state, which declared independence from Belgrade in 2008 after nine years under United Nations administration.
The Serb government backed the vote as part of an EU-brokered deal to normalise relations with Kosovo, which both countries hope will allow them to forge closer ties with the bloc. However, many of the 120,000 Serbs living in Kosovo – which has a population of 1.8 million – refused to vote, because they saw the election as a way of legitimising the rule of the ethnic Albanian government in Pristina, whose authority they refuse to recognise.
Resistance to the election was especially strong in northern Kosovo, where Serbs predominate and, until now, Belgrade rather than Pristina held sway. In the town of Mitrovica, the main polling centre closed two hours early after dozens of masked men burst in, threw tear gas grenades and smashed ballot boxes.
Earlier, Serb candidates and voters in Mitrovica were barracked and abused by fellow Serbs wearing badges saying “100 per cent boycott” and armbands reading “No to Albanian elections.”
One Serb candidate, Krstimir Pantic, suffered cuts and bruises to his face after being attacked in the street on Friday.
“These elections are an act of high treason that will ultimately cut Kosovo off from Serbia and lead to a Serb exodus from Kosovo,” said student Negovan Todorovic.
Oliver Ivanovic, a candidate for mayor of Mitrovica who was jeered and called a “traitor” as he cast his vote, countered: “What we need is a strong city leadership that will tackle issues like infrastructure, sewage . . . and not politics.”
After four hours of voting, Serb turnout was lower than five per cent. It appeared to be very low in northern Kosovo but somewhat higher in Serb enclaves further south, where there is some co-operation between Serbs and the ethnic Albanians who surround them.
Belgrade’s leaders urged people to vote, saying it was the only way to defend Serb interests in Kosovo, where in 1999 Nato bombing ended a bloody Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian rebels.
Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, called the election “a key moment in Kosovo’s future and an important element in the process of normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.”