June 10. 2023. 1:03

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Serbian president orders army closer to Kosovo border as protests start in north

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić placed the country’s army on full combat alert and ordered its units to move closer to the border with Kosovo on Friday (26 May), as tensions over newly sworn-in mayors continue to simmer.

Vučić’s orders came as Serbs in northern Kosovo’s municipality of Zvecan clashed with Kosovo police who were trying to help the newly elected ethnic Albanian mayor enter his office, the Tanjug news agency reported.

“An urgent movement (of troops) to the Kosovo border has been ordered,” Defence Minister Milos Vučević said in a live TV broadcast. “It is clear that the terror against the Serb community in Kosovo is happening.”

Local media reported the presence of Serbs at three municipal buildings in Zubin Potok, Leposaviq, and Zvecan after their respective mayors were sworn in on Thursday.

In videos posted online, shots and shock bombs could be heard, and the presence of large machinery was reported in Leposaviq, similar to those used to block roads in December.

The mayors, all ethnic Albanians, were elected in a 23 April election that was called after Serb representatives resigned en masse from Kosovo institutions at the end of 2022.

They abandoned their mandates following Pristina’s decision to enforce a rule that all vehicles in Kosovo should have Kosovo-issued plates, a decision impacting Serbs who do not recognise Pristina’s independence from Serbia in 2008 and still have Serbian plates.

The local vote had been boycotted by Serbs who represent a majority in the area, following calls from Belgrade.

Kosovo police published a notification saying they are working to preserve the peace and ensure public safety.

“According to our official duty, today the Kosovo Police is assisting the mayors of the northern municipalities of Zveçan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok to exercise their right to work in the official facilities of the respective municipalities,” the police announcement states.

The US Ambassador to Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier, said this week that the elections on 23 April in the four northern municipalities were “in accordance with the laws of Kosovo mandated by the Constitution” but that the new mayors of the municipalities in the north must enter only in buildings where they are welcome.

This statement was swiftly rebuked by Kosovo Parliament Speaker Glauk Konjufca, who said the role of mayors is defined by the Constitution.

Last week, Vučić said he would not accept the swearing-in of any mayors in the north, who he said were elected in “fake elections”.

“Official Belgrade does not recognise the results of these elections and has considered them undemocratic and illegal,” he added. https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/belgrade-serb-list-issue-threats-over-swearing-in-of-mayors-in-north-kosovo/

The Serb List Vice President Igor Simić declared that with the swearing-in of the new mayor of North Mitrovica from Vetëvendosje party, “the occupation of the north has officially begun”.

Simić gave Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti until 1 June “to stop the repression, expropriation, arrest, persecution and attacks on Serbs”.

If this continues, he added, “the Serb population will protect itself by all means”, without explaining.

The Serbian capital will host two large political gatherings on Friday and Saturday, organised by the ruling party and the opposition respectively.

Read more with EURACTIV

Iran releases Belgian aid worker in controversial prisoner swap

Iran releases Belgian aid worker in controversial prisoner swap

Olivier Vandecasteele, the Belgian aid worker held for 455 days in Iran, has finally been released, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on Friday (26 May).

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