Nato soldiers on guard in Kosovo Serb town after clashes

ZVECAN, Kosovo – Dozens of Nato troops secured a municipal building in the Kosovo town of Zvecan on Tuesday, a day after 30 Nato soldiers and 52 Serb protesters were injured in clashes that European Union and Nato officials said were unacceptable as they urged calm.

Kosovo police said in a statement that the situation is “fragile, but calm”.

Russia said on Tuesday that “decisive steps” were needed to de-escalate tensions in Kosovo.

“We call on the West to finally silence its false propaganda and stop blaming incidents in Kosovo on Serbs driven to despair, who are peaceful, unarmed, trying to defend their legitimate rights and freedoms,” Russia's foreign ministry said.

Unrest in the region has intensified since ethnic Albanian mayors took office in northern Kosovo's Serb-majority after elections the Serbs boycotted, a move that led the US and its allies to rebuke Pristina on Friday.

The area's majority Serbs have never accepted Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia, and consider Belgrade their capital more than two decades after the Kosovo Albanian uprising against repressive Serbian rule.

Ethnic Albanians make up more than 90 per cent of the population in Kosovo as a whole, but northern Serbs have long demanded the implementation of an EU-brokered 2013 deal for the creation of an association of autonomous municipalities in their area.

Serbs refused to take part in local elections in April and ethnic Albanian candidates won the mayoralties in four Serb-majority municipalities – including North Mitrovica – with a 3.5 per cent turnout.

Several ethnic Serbs gathered in front of the building in Zvecan but the situation was calm, a Reuters reporter said, as soldiers from the United States, Italy and Poland stood by in anti-riot gear.

A Kosovo police source, who asked not to be , said bulldozers were heading north, ready to remove any barricades set by Serbs.

The Kosovo authorities have blamed Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic for destabilising Kosovo. Mr Vucic blames the Kosovo authorities for causing problems by installing new mayors.

“In a democracy, there is no place for fascist violence – no appeal from ballot to bullet,” Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Twitter late on Monday.

In a statement after meeting ambassadors of the so-called Quint group – the US, Italy, France, Germany and Britain – in Belgrade, Mr Vucic said he had asked that Albanian mayors are removed from their offices in the north.

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani said criminal gangs, supported by Mr Vucic, aim to destabilise Kosovo and the entire region.

On Monday, Serb protesters in Zvecan threw gas and stun grenades at Nato soldiers. The Nato force, known as KFOR, said 30 of its soldiers were hurt in the clashes. Mr Vucic said 52 Serbs were injured.

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