Violence Mars Key Kosovo Election

World | November 4, 2013, Monday // 07:38
Bulgaria: Violence Mars Key Kosovo Election Italian carabinieri helped keep the peace. Photo by BBC

Masked men forced the early closure of the main polling centre in an ethnically mixed Kosovan town during the municipal election.

They burst into the building in north Mitrovica, setting off tear gas canisters and smashing ballot boxes, BBC correspondent reported.

Ethnic Serbs were encouraged to vote for the first time but as polls closed on Sunday evening there were concerns of a low turnout.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) had been providing technical assistance in the election, but following the attack in north Mitrovica it withdrew its staff from all three polling stations in the area, bringing polling there to an end.

A candidate for mayor of Mitrovica, Krstimir Pantic, described what happened when the masked men stormed the polling station: "They started smashing ballot boxes, throwing ballot papers around, insulting members of the election commission, and one older woman was seriously injured because one of the attackers hit her with a chair.

"We heard that another woman had also been injured, her leg was broken, and this shows the bestiality and arrogance of the attackers."

People in Kosovo went out to the polls on Sunday for municipal elections seen as a test for the future of the entity.

Those were the first elections in Kosovo since the important agreement between Pristina and Belgrade on normalization of relations.

The elections are seen as important insofar as they are the first ones in which the ethnic Serb minority, concentrated largely in northern Kosovo, are expected to vote.

A Serb boycott of the election would be seen as boding ill for the future of Kosovo as a country.

As part of the April agreement brokered in Brussels, Serbia refused to recognize the independence of its breakaway province, but called on ethnic Serbs there to vote in local elections.

The governments of both Serbia and Kosovo had promoted a strong turnout in the elections, but correspondents say it was extremely quiet at polling stations.

Calls for independence from ethnic Albanians in Kosovo after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia led Serbia to stage a violent crackdown in the territory, which was bought to an end by a Nato military intervention in 1999.

Until it declared independence in 2008, Kosovo was administered by the United Nations.

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Tags: kosovo, Serbia, Belgrade, Pristina, elections, Brussels, ethnic Serbs, Northern Kosovo
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