Kosovo Serbs demonstrate for votes in Serbian elections

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PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Hundreds of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo demonstrated Friday to pressure the government to allow them to vote in the April 3 general election in neighboring Serbia.

Protesters gathered in Mitrovica, 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Pristina, with anti-government banners and marched towards a bridge that divides the city. Most of Kosovo’s ethnic Serb population lives north of Mitrovica, near the Serbian border.

Hundreds also demonstrated in Gracanica, a township 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Kosovo’s capital where ethnic Serb residents are concentrated.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti said Kosovo and Serbia needed to have a preliminary agreement on holding elections to allow the vote.

In previous Serbian elections, ethnic Kosovo Serbs voted there under the watch of international observers. This did not happen when Serbia held a referendum earlier this year.

The United States, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom said they were “concerned about the risk of escalation or violence” on Friday and urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully. They also called on Kosovo and Serbia “to act with restraint and refrain from any rhetoric or action that could escalate tensions”.

On Wednesday, the United States and the four European countries – collectively known as the Quint – criticized Kosovo’s rejection of what they called their “constructive proposal” to allow the nation’s ethnic Serb minority to Balkans to vote in elections in Serbia. They did not say what the rejected proposal entailed.

A bloody 1998-99 conflict between Serbia and Albanian separatists in Kosovo, then a Serbian province, left more than 12,000 dead and around 1,600 missing. NATO intervention in the form of a bombing campaign over Serbia ended the war.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a decision recognized by the United States and most EU countries. Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo as a separate nation after 11 years of negotiations under the aegis of the EU.

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