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Kosovo open to new elections in municipalities hit by unrest, minister says


PRAGUE (Reuters) -Kosovo is open to the possibility of new elections in four northern Serb-majority municipalities following unrest, but other steps need to be taken before then, Kosovan Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla-Schwarz said on Tuesday.

Violence has flared since Kosovo authorities installed ethnic Albanian mayors in offices in the municipalities after being elected on a turnout of just 3.5%, angering Serbs who form a majority in the region and who had boycotted local polls.

Gervalla-Schwarz, speaking after meeting the Czech foreign minister in Prague, said an end to the violence was the first condition to consider new elections.

“Yes, we are open to elections in those four municipalities but to have new elections we need steps in between,” she said.

She said Kosovo also needed “a commitment from Serbia that they will no more threaten Serbian citizens of Kosovo not to participate in the election,” adding that people should not feel the threat of mob violence.

Reinforcements for NATO’s peacekeeping force began to arrive in Kosovo this week following the unrest.

Kosovo declared internationally recognised independence from Serbia in 2008, although it was rejected by Belgrade. Serbs in Kosovo’s north are seeking autonomy for their region under a 2013 deal that has not been implemented.

Last week, an aide to U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, pushing Serbia to withdraw armed forces stationed near the border and urging protesters to remain peaceful.

“We do have some challenges in the bilateral relations in dealing with the prime minister (Kurti),” U.S. senior diplomat for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar told reporters at the U.S. embassy in Pristina on Tuesday.

Kurti has dismissed Western criticism and blamed Serbia for financing and supporting Serbs in the north, who do not recognize the 2008 declaration of independence and see Belgrade as their capital.

(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet in PragueAdditional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in PristinaEditing by Kirsten Donovan and Matthew Lewis)

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