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Polling station attacked as Kosovo votes

Masked men have attacked a polling station in the Kosovar town of Mitrovica. The assault took place as the country held elections aimed at bringing the Serb and Albanian ethnic groups together.

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Kosovo poll tests ethnic relations

Some 30 masked men forcibly entered a polling station where the municipal elections were held late on Sunday afternoon, smashing windows and tearing up voting material.

The attack took place at Mitrovica's Sveti Sava school (pictured above), where many voters living on the Serb side of the town are registered to vote. Police closed the polling station, where tear gas was said to have been used.

Members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), tasked with monitoring the vote in the north, left the polling station precinct in vehicles.

The elections had already been marred with intimidation by Serb hardliners of those taking part in the poll. In the mainly Serb northern municipalities, only between 7.1 and 13.4 percent of the total number of eligible voters had cast their vote by 3 p.m. local time.

Better figures elsewhere

Across the country, some 33 percent had voted by the same time. Around 1.8 million voters in total were registered to vote in 39 municipalities.

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic urged Serbs ahead of the election to defy the threats and a campaign against the poll by casting their ballots. Dacic said participation was in the interests of the Serbians living in Kosovo, declaring followers of Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci to be extremists. "Let us once do something that is in our interest and not in the interest of our enemies," Dacic said. "The fate of Serbs in Kosovo should be in their own hands."

However, many Serbians claim the vote validates the existence of Kosovo - and that it amounts to treason.

In April, Serbia's parliament overwhelmingly approved normalizing ties with its former breakaway province. Kosovo broke away from Serbia when, in 2008, it declared itself to be independent - a status that Serbia disputes.

It is the first time that voters in all of Kosovo will elect local councilors and mayors since its secession. The US and the majority of EU members have recognized Kosovo as a state.

rc/dr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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