Kosovo braces for presidential vote and protests

Protesters have taken to the streets calling for the government as parliament is due to elect a president

Kosovo braces for presidential vote and protests

World Bulletin / News Desk

Kosovo's MPs were due to begin electing a new president on Friday amid heavy security in the capital, where anti-government protesters were camped out and determined to disrupt the vote.

Foreign Minister and former premier Hashim Thaci is the frontrunner to become head of state, but the united opposition bloc and its supporters have vowed to scupper his chances with protests inside and outside parliament.

Kosovo, which broke away from Serbia eight years ago, has faced a political crisis in recent months with opposition MPs almost paralysing the work of parliament with regular tear gas demonstrations in the chamber.

Protesters have also taken to the streets calling for the government to step down and hold early elections, amid widespread frustration over alleged high-level corruption, unemployment at around 40 percent and a government deal with Serbia.

"Thaci did nothing for eight years as prime minister to resolve unemployment, nor did he even attempt to improve the economy. It would be a disaster for Kosovo if he is in power for another five years," said Agron Mustafa, a 29-year-old unemployed lawyer.

He was among hundreds of protesters who pitched tents in the centre of Pristina this week, pledging to protest around the clock in a bid to oust the government and prevent Thaci's election.

Friday's session was due to begin at 11.00 am (1000 GMT) but was postponed owing to stringent security checks at the entrance to parliament, which was guarded by about 200 anti-riot police officers with shields.

The police presence was also heavy in other areas downtown, as protesters from other parts of Kosovo arrived.

- Controversial deal -

Opposition leaders are particularly furious over a government deal with Belgrade, brokered by the European Union, to create an association giving greater powers to Kosovo's Serb minority -- a move they fear will increase the influence of Serbia.

The deal was reached during talks to "normalise" relations between Kosovo and Serbia after the two sides fought a war in the late 1990s.

Improved relations are a key requirement for both sides to join the EU, and Thaci has taken a leading role in the dialogue with Serbia, which does not recognise Kosovo's sovereignty.

Along with Thaci, his close party associate Rafet Rama is running for Kosovo's top job.

A candidate needs support from two thirds of the 120 MPs to be elected president, and if there is no winner after three rounds of voting then parliament must dissolve itself and organise snap elections within 45 days.

The final deadline to choose a president is March 7.

Last week, opposition MPs disrupted the first parliamentary session of the year by releasing tear gas in the chamber three times. It marked their seventh such protest since October.

Proceedings eventually resumed with 18 opposition MPs banned from joining the proceedings.

The government and international observers, including the US ambassador to Kosovo, have repeatedly denounced the opposition's method of protest.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Şubat 2016, 13:07