November 10, 2015 / 9:34 PM / in 3 years

Kosovo's highest court temporarily suspends EU-backed deal on Serbs

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo’s constitutional court on Tuesday decided to delay implementation of an EU-brokered agreement that would give greater powers to local Serb communities after being challenged by the opposition which wants the deal scrapped.

Neighboring Serbia, which does not recognize the sovereignty of its former province, immediately denounced the court’s ruling as an unprecedented violation of the agreement mapped out in Brussels.

The agreement, which would grant ethnic Serb areas in Kosovo greater local powers with the possibility of funding from Belgrade, have sparked opposition-led street protests and rowdy scenes in Kosovo’s parliament chamber.

Bowing to the opposition, Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga asked the constitutional court to rule on whether the deal was acceptable under the constitution.

In its ruling, the court said it was suspending implementation “of any further legal actions” until there had been a final verdict. It was not clear when this would be handed down though Kosovo’s media says it could happen in two months.

There was no immediate reaction from government.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the decision was an unprecedented violation of the agreement reached in Brussels and a “threat to regional stability.”

“Pristina is mocking both the international community and the European Union,” Dacic said.

Both Kosovo and Serbia aspire to joining the European Union, but they need to normalize their relations first.

Though Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as sovereign, it signed up to an accord in 2013 designed to settle relations as a condition of Belgrade’s further progress towards EU membership.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 almost a decade after NATO went to war to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces trying to crush an insurgency.

The new country, where Albanians make up 90-percent of the population, is so far recognized by 111 states, but not by Serbia or U.N. Security Council members Russia and China.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Additional reporting by Ivana Sekularac in Belgrade; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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