By Fatmir Aliu
Ten Kosovo police officers were injured in the clashes close to the north-eastern crossing at Merdare, after they moved to open the highway leading to the border which had been blocked by the protesters.
Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd, which was on its way to Merdare where they hoped to block the crossing in a protest organised by the opposition Self-determination (Vetevendosje) Movement.
The clashes took place at around 14:30, four kilometres away from the Merdare border, after police ordered the crowd of protesters to disperse.
While the situation had calmed down by late afternoon, demonstrators remained close to the border and said they hoped to close the highway again.
The Vetevendosje Movement announced earlier this week that it would block the free flow of goods at Merdare and in the southeast at Dheu i Bardhe, with a view to upholding a recent parliamentary motion advocating a trade ban with Serbia.
But a significant police presence prevented the protesters from reaching the border gates, stopping the crowd about five kilometres from their destination.
The Movement said that eight of its senior members, including its leader Albin Kurti, were arrested by Kosovo police during the protest.
The police have not confirmed the arrests, saying that Kurti was offered medical care after being sprayed with tear gas and pepper spray.
“We have no official confirmation that Albin Kurti has been arrested or detained. What we know is that 18 persons were arrested for disobeying police orders and attacking the officers with different objects, including stones which injured 10 police officers,” police spokesman Baki Kelani told Balkan Insight on Saturday.
Unofficial reports says that at least five protestors were lightly injured by the pepper spray and tear gas.
The situation at the south-eastern gate of Dheu i Bardhe is calm, and no incidents were reported.
There the protesters were stopped by the police some two kilometres away from the crossing, where they blocked the highway leading to the border.
In the days leading up the demonstration, officials from Kosovo, including the president and prime minister, called on Kosovars to reject the call to blockade the border crossings. Western embassies, meanwhile, warned against the protest.