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Opposition MPs release tear gas in Kosovo parliament

PRISTINA: Opposition lawmakers released tear gas in Kosovo’s parliament Thursday, causing two MPs to faint, in protest against a recent EU-brokered deal reached by the government with Serbia.

While those supporting the protest blew loudly on whistles, the chamber began to fill with smoke after gas canisters were opened, one of them by Albin Kurti who leads the opposition Self-Determination party. He then kicked it around the assembly floor.

Politicians began to leave the hall and two female MPs who fainted were taken to hospital in wheelchairs, said an AFP reporter at the scene. Four ambulances outside parliament offered first aid to those affected.

A government statement following the chaos said the opposition’s “violent behaviour” had “exceeded all bounds of institutional and democratic behaviour”.

The protest was against an accord reached in August between Kosovo’s government and Serbia, which European Union brokers had hailed as a “landmark” in normalising relations.

Kosovo, whose population is predominantly ethnic Albanian, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade fiercely rejected the move and still considers the breakaway territory as its southern province.

As part of the recent deal, Kosovo agreed to give more financial and legislative rights to its minority Serb community including by setting up an association of Serb-run municipalities.

The government says this association will not hold executive powers, but the opposition believes the move will deepen the ethnic divide and increase Serbia’s power in Kosovo.

“No one has the mandate, or the right, to bring Serbia back in Kosovo. We will not allow this,” said a statement from the opposition bloc on the Self-Determination party’s website.

Along with tear gas and whistles, the protesters’ headline-grabbing tactics to disrupt parliamentary sessions in recent weeks have included throwing eggs at the government.

Last month they pelted Prime Minister Isa Mustafa to prevent him addressing parliament over the ongoing dialogue with Serbia. An egg struck the lapel of his suit as he left the podium.

The US embassy in Kosovo condemned Thursday’s incident, which “led to the search for medical care for other members of parliament as well as international observers, including personnel from the US embassy”.

It said the protesters’ behaviour “makes a mockery of one of the most important democratic institutions in Kosovo”.

A statement from British Ambassador Ruairi O’Connell said he was “appalled” by the scenes.

Kosovo and Serbia were at war in 1998-1999, which ended after Serbian armed forces withdrew from the territory following an 11-week NATO bombing campaign.

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