By Fatmir Aliu
Hundreds of Kosovars joined a peaceful demonstration in Pristina on Monday, condemning the police tactics used to break up a Vetevendosje protest on Saturday.
The gathering on Monday afternoon, organised by twenty-five NGOs, condemned the “violence” used by Kosovo police against protesters and activists of the nationalist Vetevendosje [Self-Determination] movement on Saturday near the Kosovo-Serbia border at Merdare.
Hundreds of demonstrators joined the “Five Minute Protest” in front of the government building on Monday. One group left a banner near the official building that read: “The police government has violated the rights of the citizens and the state institutions.”
“We are here to show our discontent with the way the Kosovo Police intervened by force against the protesters on Saturday,” Lorik Bajrami from the Cohu Anti-Corruption NGO, one of the organisers of the protest, said in a short speech.
Government officials, meanwhile, have said that the police response was measured, and reiterated that the Saturday protest was not authorized.
More than 50 persons, half of them police officers, were injured on Saturday when clashes erupted as police tried to remove the protesters from the Pristina-Podujevo highway, near the Merdare border crossing.
A significant police presence prevented the protesters from reaching the border crossings and stopped the crowd about five kilometres from Merdare and some 500 metres from the crossing in Dheu i Bardhe.
The Vetevendosje Movement organised the protest in an effort to block the free flow of goods at the Merdare crossing in the northeast and in the southeast at Dheu i Bardhe.
The action was aimed at upholding a recent parliamentary motion advocating a trade ban with Serbia.
Kosovo’s Interior Minister, Bajram Rexhepi, told local press that police will respond in exactly the same way any time highways are intentionally blocked.
Kosovo Police on Sunday said the protests, which intended to block two border crossings with Serbia, were unauthorized and as such illegal.
Kosovo Police on Sunday said they arrested 146 protesters at both Merdare and Dheu i Bardhe for resisting and attacking police officers.
According to police records some 1,500 protesters gathered in both Merdare and Dheu i Bardhe on Saturday.
Shpend Ahmeti from Vetevendosje announced that the movement will organise its next protest on Sunday, January 22, again in an attempt to stop the flow of goods from Serbia to Kosovo.