Kosovo president open to new elections in Serb-majority municipalities

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[June 07, 2023]  By Kim Vinnell

PRISTINA, Kosovo (Reuters) -Kosovo could trigger new elections in Serb-majority municipalities rocked by violent protests if 20% of voters sign a petition asking for them, the president told Reuters.

In an exclusive interview in her office, President Vjosa Osmani said she believed a petition was the most "democratic way" to proceed to new elections.

"In this way, I think we would ensure the participation of Serbs because the request would have come from them to begin with, from citizens," she said.

To listen to the interview on Reuters World News podcast please click here.

Violent protests erupted in four northern municipalities after Kosovo installed ethnic Albanian mayors who were elected into offices on a turnout of just 3.5%. Serbs, who form a majority in the region, boycotted the local polls.

Osmani said removing mayors through a voter petition would be "sort of a referendum" which would open the way for a second vote to be held to elect new mayors. She said the entire process could be done within a few months.

It was unclear, however, if local Serb voters would participate in a petition.

Serbs in Kosovo's northern region do not accept the 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia, almost a decade after the end of a war there, and still see Belgrade as their capital.

As tensions between Serbia and Kosovo simmer, NATO has reinforced its peacekeeping forces in the north of the country.

Osmani said she wanted those peacekeeping troops to stay until Kosovo was admitted into NATO.

'DRAMA KING'

Osmani said that before new elections were called, Kosovo would need reassurances from the international community that Belgrade would not interfere.

Serbia denies Kosovo's accusations that it prevented Serbian candidates from running on the ballots. It also denies allegations that demonstrators who clashed with NATO troops and police in northern regions on May 29 were sent by Belgrade.

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Kosovo's President Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu speaks during an interview with Reuters in Pristina, Kosovo June 6, 2023. REUTERS/Fatos Bytyci

Serbia still formally considers Kosovo to be part of its territory. Serbs in Kosovo's north are seeking more autonomy for their region under a 2013 deal that has not been implemented.

Last week, an aide to U.S. President Joe Biden spoke withKosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian PresidentAleksandar Vucic, pushing Serbia to withdraw armed forcesstationed near the border and urging protesters to remainpeaceful.

Osmani met with Vucic at a meeting brokered by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Moldova last week.

She described the Serbian president as "a drama king".

"Vucic in most of his meetings is quite a drama king," she said. "So he, of course, tried to create quite a lot of drama again, but provided no ideas that would contribute to peace and stability in the region."

"So he loves to pretend that he's making great concessions, that there's too much pressure on him, that he's suffering, that he's in danger and all that.

But those kind of tantrums they should be left outside of the room after the age of four."

Vucic's office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Osmani's description of the meeting.

(Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina and Ivana Sekularac in Belgrade, Editing by Leela de Kretser, William Maclean)

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