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Europe

Spiral of violence fuels Kosovo crisis

Eight years ago, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. But Europe's youngest country now faces great difficulties. The opposition wants to hold a mass demonstration to bring down the government.

Representatives of the international community are shocked by the violence in recent months in Kosovo. "Violence must not be accepted as a legitimate means of changing the government," said Ernst Reichel, the representative for southeastern Europe at the German Foreign Ministry. "What's worse is that the Kosovar opposition has never distanced itself from violence. One must use rational arguments in a parliamentary debate and not tear gas and Molotov cocktails," he said.

Since August last year, opposition members have been disrupting parliamentary sessions by setting off tear gas, tossing eggs and jeering. At first, they tried to force the government to withdraw an EU mediated agreement on the establishment of an association of new municipalities mostly inhabited by Serbs in Kosovo. This arrangement will grant the Serb minority far-reaching rights of autonomy. At the same time, the opposition has demanded that the government take back its signature in an agreement on the border between Kosovo and Montenegro. Apart from the blockades in parliament, the opposition has organized several violent demonstrations in front of the parliament and government buildings in the capital, Pristina.

Violence in parliament and on the streets

Now, demands for the resignation of the government and new elections have been made. "The government has put Kosovo's sovereignty at risk," said an opposition leader, Ramush Haradinaj, in an interview with a Kosovo television station.

Ramush Haradinaj Politiker Kosovo

Ramush Haradinaj: 'Government has put sovereignty at risk'

On January 9, the biggest demonstration since independence eight years ago was held in Kosovo. Several thousand Kosovars in Pristina demonstrated to take down the government. The protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails. Subsequently, the police fired tear gas. Protesters demanded the government's resignation and new elections because they claimed the government was working "against the interests of the country." Dozens of police officers and demonstrators were injured, and government buildings were severely damaged. Several prominent members of parliament were arrested and later placed under house arrest.

The ruling political parties in Kosovo's grand coalition - the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of foreign minister Hashim Thaci – strictly reject the opposition's demands. "The government will not resign and there will be no new elections. New elections will be held in Kosovo in 2018, as provided by electoral law," wrote Prime Minister Mustafa on his Facebook account.

Volatile situation

Isa Mustafa, Premierminister Kosovo

Prime Minister Isa Mustafa: 'The government will not resign'

The situation remains quite unstable, observers say. "The situation in Kosovo is worrying. The images of violence have seriously damaged the image of Kosovo," said Safet Gerxhaliu, chairman of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce, in an interview with DW.

"There is a great fear of social unrest and demonstrations because Kosovo has huge economic problems." The youngest country in Europe has an unemployment rate of nearly 40 percent. The ethnic tensions between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs still run high. The implementation of agreements with Serbia has been sluggish.

Furthermore, Kosovo has only been officially recognized by 112 countries. Five members of the European Union as well as Serbia, Russia, China and India are among those which have not recognized the country.

Recently, the country was denied UNESCO membership. Kosovars are the only people in Europe who cannot travel to the EU without a visa. They no longer believe that their country's situation can change quickly. Almost every tenth person has left the country in the past two years to seek better prospects in Germany and other European countries.

Presidential election

A very controversial issue is the choice of the new Kosovan president. If the coalition agreement between PDK and LDK is adhered to, then Foreign Minister Thaci is supposed to take office as president.

Forum deutsch-kosovarisches Wirtschaftsforum Hashim Thaci

Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci is a controversial figure

However, he needs a majority of two-thirds of the 120 members of parliament in the first two election rounds. In the third round, he just needs an absolute majority. Thaci is a controversial figure; not only the opposition want to prevent him from taking office, but also several members of parliament from the ruling coalition. The election of the new president must take place by the beginning of March.

Still, Gerxhaliu believes that the problems can be solved in a relatively short period of time. "On the way to the European family, there is no alternative to dialogue, communication and partnership. Kosovo must act on recommendations made by international friends from Berlin, Brussels, Washington, London, Paris and the Vatican." The American Ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie thinks that "all problems must be solved in parliament."

Last week, Kosovo's current president, Atifete Jahjaga, organized a "round table" for government and opposition representatives. But the dialogue proved unsuccessful. "See you on February 17," said Ramush Haradinaj. This is what everyone in Pristina fears. On Wednesday, on the eighth anniversary of the independence of Kosovo, the largest demonstration since the Kosovo war in 1999 is expected to take place. Observers believe that violence will be more than just a mere possibility.

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