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Kosovo oppn halts Parliament proceedings by throwing tear gas

The Self-Determination Movement party used tear gas to disrupt a parliamentary vote on a border demarcation deal with Montenegro.

world Updated: Mar 21, 2018 23:33 IST
Associated Press, Pristina
Kosovo opposition politicians release tear gas in Parliament on March 21, 2018.
Kosovo opposition politicians release tear gas in Parliament on March 21, 2018.(Reuters)

Kosovo’s opposition on Wednesday used tear gas several times to disrupt a parliamentary vote on a border demarcation deal with Montenegro.

Lawmakers had to be evacuated from the assembly building after the Self-Determination Movement party used tear gas in the hall where the vote was due to start. The opposition used tear gas a second time when the session resumed.

Speaker Kadri Veseli said five opposition lawmakers involved in setting off the tear gas were barred from taking part in the session when it restarts, while two from the governing coalition were injured by the tear gas.

“Today the trauma of the Montenegro border demarcation will end. The vote will be held today,” he said.

But the session failed to resume for a third time with tear gas thrown again in the chamber by the opposition. It wasn’t immediately clear when the session would start again.

Police said they were investigating how the tear gas got into the hall, adding that officers couldn’t enter the chamber unless asked by the parliament’s leadership.

Later, police went into Parliament and forced out a small group of opposition lawmakers, who had refused to leave since the morning. Police led them away, apparently for questioning.

The opposition party, now divided in two groups because of internal frictions, has used tear gas and similar tactics to disrupt parliament over the past three years.

The 120-seat parliament was expected to ratify the 2015 deal, which was set as a precondition by the European Union for Kosovo’s citizens to freely travel within its visa-free travel zone known as Schengen. In order for it to be approved, two-thirds of lawmakers must support it.

The opposition party says the border deal will mean Kosovo loses 8,200 hectares (20,000 acres) of its territory. The previous government and international experts deny that claim.

Opposition lawmaker Albulena Haxhiu said they were determined to stop parliament from passing the deal.

The collapse of votes for the border demarcation agreement and another proposal seeking to give more rights to the ethnic Serb minority toppled the previous government and took the country to an early election last year.

Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said before the start of the session they had the votes to pass the deal. But a parliament majority can’t be secured unless enough votes are gathered from the opposition ranks.

The ethnic Serb community’s Serb List party with 10 seats wasn’t present.

President Hashim Thaci, who signed the deal in 2015 when he was foreign minister, denounced “the dangerous tactics of the opponents of the visa liberalization.”

Both the US and EU ambassadors denounced the use of tear gas and urged the lawmakers to hold the vote in favour of the deal.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn also strongly condemned the use of tear gas.

“Such behavior has no place in a democracy,” he tweeted, adding that Kosovars could only benefit from visa liberalization “on the horizon” if the deal was ratified.

Montenegro, which has approved the deal, recognizes Kosovo’s 2008 independence from Serbia, which Belgrade still rejects.