A man with a bicycle walks near a police vehicle set on
fire by Kosovo Albanian demonstrators during a protest in
Mitrovica. REUTERS/Hazir Reka
Police in Kosovo fired teargas and rubber bullets at
ethnic Albanian rioters burning police cars and lobbing rocks
in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, in protest at the
blockade of the main bridge by ethnic Serbs.
A Reuters reporter saw Polish special police units, part of a
European Union mission, open fire with rubber bullets, during
one of the worst bouts of civil unrest since Kosovo declared
independence from Serbia in 2008.
The violence broke out when several hundred Albanians,
protesting over the Serbs' closure of the bridge for the past
three years, began hurling rocks and bottles at Kosovo
They set fire to cars belonging to the officers and the EU
law and order mission. Kosovo police responded with teargas.
US soldiers, part of a NATO peace force of some 5,000,
guarded the bridge in four rows of Humvees.
A police spokesman said 13 police officers and 10 civilians
were wounded. Five people were arrested. By evening, the
situation was calm but NATO troops, EU and Kosovo police were
holding their positions.
President Atifete Jahjaga said: "Any attempt to find a
solution through the use of violence will further escalate
the situation and will be a step backwards."
Mitrovica has been a frequent flashpoint between Serbs and
Albanians since Kosovo's 1998-99 war, when NATO intervened
with 11 weeks of air strikes to halt the massacre and
expulsion of Albanians by Serbian forces waging a
Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as independent, but agreed
to give up de facto control over a small Serb pocket of
northern Kosovo last year under a deal brokered by the EU. In
exchange, Belgrade won the green light to open talks on
joining the EU.
But Serbs in the north are reluctant to integrate with
Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
They blocked the bridge in 2011 following an abortive bid by
the Kosovo government to rein in the north. The Serbs
dismantled the roadblock on Wednesday, only to replace it
with a "Park of Peace" consisting of concrete plant pots and