January 24, 2015 / 6:48 PM / 3 years ago

Kosovo police fire teargas in anti-government protest

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo police fired teargas on Saturday evening to disperse thousands of protesters throwing stones at a government building in a demonstration called by ethnic Albanian opposition parties.

Protesters react to tear gas during a demonstration in the centre of Pristina January 24, 2015. REUTERS/Hazir Reka

It was the biggest protest seen in Pristina since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

The ethnic Albanian parties are seeking the resignation of a minister, Aleksandar Jablanovic from the Serb minority, who earlier this month called some ethnic Albanians savages.

They also want the government to announce clear plans for the future of the country’s wealthiest mine, which is claimed also by Serbia.

Around 10,000 people ended a protest at 1600 local time (10 a.m. ET) but dozens continued to throw stones at the government building and attacked police, injuring 20 officers.

Police said they had arrested 22 protesters.

In early January, Jablanovic dubbed as “savages” some ethnic Albanian protesters who lost relatives during a 1998-99 war with Serbia.

The minister has apologized but the opposition parties are asking for his resignation, organizing protests all over Kosovo.

Protesters also called on the government to vote an early plan to take control of a huge mine rich in lead, zinc and silver.

Fearing bankruptcy, Kosovo’s new government said last week it would take control of the sprawling Trepca mining complex, but backtracked on Monday following a furious response from Serbia and intense discussions with Western diplomats.

A NATO helicopter and unmanned drone flew during the protest. NATO has some 5,000 troops to maintain the fragile peace.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 almost a decade after NATO intervened for 11 weeks and drove out forces under late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as independent, but in 2013 agreed to normalize ties with its former breakaway province.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Stephen Powell

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