December 14, 2015 / 4:30 PM / in 2 years

Teargassed Kosovo lawmakers adopt 2016 budget

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Protesting opposition lawmakers released tear gas in Kosovo's parliament on Monday in an effort to foil a vote on the government's 2016 budget, forcing MPs into a sideroom where the measure was adopted.

There have been several tear gas protests in parliament by opposition MPs in what has become Kosovo's worst political crisis since the troubled young Balkan state declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

The 1.67 billion euro ($1.8 billion) budget was approved with 78 votes in favor after opposition lawmakers were barred from entering the sideroom after having unleashed tear gas in the assembly to disrupt proceedings.

Opposition MPs have been rallying supporters in often violent protests against an accord brokered by the European Union to help regulate relations between Kosovo and former master Serbia.

They particularly oppose a deal to grant ethnic Serbs in the majority-Albanian country greater local powers and the possibility of funding from Serbia, and are also against a border demarcation deal with Montenegro.

In the streets on Monday, a few hundred opposition supporters threw bottles filled with red paint at the parliament building in the capital Pristina. They lobbed stones and petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas.

The U.S. ambassador, who was in parliament, condemned the disorder, which followed a visit this month by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during which he condemned such violence.

“I was very disappointed to see some members of the parliament release tear gas in the assembly again,” said Ambassador Greg Delawie. “(Kerry)... encouraged trying to keep the violence out of the assembly and it is very disappointing that people aren’t listening to him.”

Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 1999 when NATO carried out 11 weeks of air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces trying to crush a guerrilla insurgency. It declared independence in 2008 and has been recognized by more than 100 countries, including the major Western powers.

The government's spending plan for next year targets a deficit of two percent of output and growth of 3.8 percent.

Kosovo remains one of the poorest countries in Europe, its economic growth driven mainly driven by state infrastructure projects, remittances and foreign aid.

($1 = 0.9068 euros)

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Matt Robinson and Mark Heinrich

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