|Forces in Mitrovica, Photo by Beta/AP|
The local elections on Sunday, a key element of the EU-brokered deal to normalise relations between Pristina and its former ruler Belgrade, were marred by a series of sometimes violent disruptions by Serbs opposed to Kosovo’s independence.
Many Serbs in northern Kosovo boycotted the vote and masked men attacked several polling stations on the Serb side of the divided northern town of Mitrovica, causing several polling stations to close early.
Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaha praised the polls as a success but condemned what she said was intimidation against Serb voters.
“The incidents and irregularities that have taken place in some parts of Kosovo, as attempts to infringe the free vote of the citizens are being thoroughly investigated and prosecuted by the authorities, evidence of the coordination and cooperation of the institutions of Kosovo to ensure the constitutionality and legality in the whole territory throughout this election process,” Jahjaha said in a statement.
The European Union on Monday also condemned “the violent incidents of yesterday in Mitrovica north which disrupted the otherwise orderly run electoral process in the rest of Kosovo”.
|A Serbian priest votes. Photo: Beta/AP Darko Vojinovic|
Aleksandar Vulin, the Serbian minister in charge of Kosovo issues, said Belgrade would punish those responsible.
“Serbia honours the Brussels agreement [with Pristina] and it is not responsible for these incidents. Everyone should know that Jarinje [a village on Kosovo’s border with Serbia] is not going to be a safe house, nor will central Serbia be a sanctuary to those who set Mitrovica on fire, and evidence will be collected against them,” Vulin told a news conference late on Sunday.
Belgrade had urged Serbs in their stronghold in north Kosovo, where they form the majority, to take part in the Pristina-run polls for the first time, as Serbia seeks to advance its EU ambitions.
But some local Serbs in Kosovo have strongly opposed giving any legitimacy to the Pristina authorities since the 1998-99 war in the former Serbian province which claimed independence in 2008, although the extent of the boycott demanded by hardliners in the area has not yet become clear.
Oliver Ivanovic, a Serb candidate for the mayor of Mitrovica, said he hoped that the elections will be repeated in the polling stations which closed early.
|Krstimir Pantic with reporters in Mitrovica, Photo by Beta/AP|
Another candidate for mayor of Mitrovica, Krstimir Pantic, condemned what he called “the bestiality and arrogance of the attackers”.
“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,” Pantic told local media on Sunday evening.
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said however that he thought the elections would boost Kosovo’s EU hopes.
“I have a strong belief that our state Kosovo and the citizens of Kosovo will pass the European test for their future,” Thaci said.
According to preliminary figures from the election commission, 47.83 per cent of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots, but the Serb-dominated constituency in the north has yet to declare turnout figures from polling stations which shut early.
Albanian parties claim victory
Kosovo’s central election commission has not announced preliminary results yet, but according to figures published online by iVote, a company working for the commission, there will be a second round in 24 municipalities out of 38.
iVote’s figures suggest that the Kosovo Democratic Party (PDK) won in four municipalities, the Kosovo Democratic League (LDK) in three, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo in one; an independent candidate was elected mayor of Han i Elezit, while a Turkish party won in Mamusha.
Several Albanian parties have already claimed victory however and some even set off fireworks to celebrate in Pristina on Sunday night.
“Today, it was reconfirmed that the PDK is the number one party. The PDK leads in most of the municipalities in the Kosovo Republic,” PDK leader and prime minister Thaci said late on Sunday.
“The PDK won 230,000 votes throughout the country,” he claimed.
The Kosovo Democratic League also claimed that it had won in most municipalities.
“The LDK managed to regain the voters’ trust. Therefore it has become the major party again,” Isa Mustafa, the head of the LDK, told a press conference on Sunday night.
The EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo EULEX said meanwhile that additional police officers had been deployed to the north after the alleged intimidation in the area.
“EULEX is aware of serious incidents that occured in northern Kosovo. These incidents have disrupted the process in several polling stations,” EULEX spokesperson Dragana Nikolic-Solomon told BIRN on Sunday.
The OSCE withdrew some 60 out of more than 200 of its staff from the north after the violent incidents.
Kosovo police had deployed 5,500 officers to secure over 2,300 polling stations.
The vote was monitored by around 30,000 observers, both local and foreign.
Preliminary results are expected to be released on Monday and official figures on Wednesday at the latest.