BELGRADE (Reuters) - An opposition lawmaker in Kosovo set off what appeared to be a smoke bomb in parliament on Thursday, in a deepening political standoff over an EU-brokered deal to improve ties between Serbia and its former southern province.
Albin Kurti, leader of the opposition Self-Determination party, calmly triggered the device before kicking it around the chamber to spread the smoke.
There was no immediate confirmation from police of what actual device was used. Self-Determination described it as a ‘gas canister’.
Kurti, a former student protest leader against Serbian rule in the 1990s, is leading opposition to a slow-moving rapprochement between Pristina and Belgrade, mediated by the European Union as a way to cement stability in the former Yugoslavia.
NATO went to war with 78 days of air strikes in 1999 to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo by Serbian forces trying to crush a two-year guerrilla insurgency.
In 2008, Kosovo declared independence and has been recognized by more than 100 countries. Serbia and its big-power ally Russia are blocking its accession to the United Nations, though.
Kurti and his followers are angry at the Kosovo government’s acquiescence to a deal creating an ‘association’ of municipalities where minority Serbs live, saying this represents a creeping return to rule from Belgrade.
“No one has the mandate nor the right to bring Serbia back into Kosovo,” an opposition bloc of which Kurti is part said in a statement. “We will not let this happen.”
Reporting by Fatos Bytyci and Matt Robinson; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Larry King