Kosovo votes to create national army over Serb objections

Kosovo Security Force members mark the anniversary of Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, in Pristina. The lightly-armed KSF will evolve to become a national army. (Reuters)
Updated 18 October 2018
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Kosovo votes to create national army over Serb objections

  • Europe’s newest independent state which relies on NATO troops for its protection, voted to set up a 5,000-strong national army
  • The landlocked Balkan territory of 1.8 million, which declared independence in 2008, is still guarded by 4,000 stationed NATO troops

PRISTINA: Parliament in Kosovo, Europe’s newest independent state which relies on NATO troops for its protection, voted on Thursday to set up a 5,000-strong national army though its Serb minority said the move was illegal.
Serb deputies, backed by Belgrade which does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, have blocked any such move in the past saying creation of a national army required a change to the constitution.
But three laws promoted by the Kosovo government and passed by a parliamentary vote on Thursday simply upgraded the mandate of the lightly-armed domestic Kosovo Security Force (KSF) to become a national army — something which the government said did not require any changes to the constitution.
The vote was passed with 98 in favor in the 120-seat parliament, though it was boycotted by the legislature’s 11 Serb deputies. A second vote will be required in the next few days.
“The three laws have one task, to protect the territorial integrity of Kosovo, to protect the citizens of all communities in Kosovo,” Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said before the vote.
The landlocked Balkan territory of 1.8 million, which declared independence in 2008, is still guarded by 4,000 stationed NATO troops nearly two decades after the end of the war.
NATO moved into the fledgling state in June 1999 following weeks of air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces fighting a two-year counter-insurgency after the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The United States and most of the European Union member states recognize Kosovo. But objections by permanent Security Council members Russia and China which back Serbia in not accepting Kosovo’s statehood prevent it from being a member of the United Nations.
The laws passed said the new army would have 5,000 active soldiers and 3,000 reservists. The present KSF security force is a lightly armed, 2,500-strong force trained by NATO and tasked with crisis response, civil protection and ordinance disposal.
NATO says it has no plans to leave the territory just now, but it suggested that any change to the status of the KSF might lead to a reduction in its forces there.
“Any change in the structure, mandate and mission of the Kosovo Security Forces is for the Kosovo authorities to decide,” a NATO official told Reuters in an emailed answer.
“NATO supports the Kosovo Security Force under its current mandate. Should this mandate evolve, the North Atlantic Council will have to re-examine the level of NATO’s engagement in Kosovo. We cannot predict decisions by the North Atlantic Council.”


French police clear fuel protesters as movement wanes

Updated 21 November 2018
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French police clear fuel protesters as movement wanes

PARIS: French police cleared demonstrators blocking roads and fuel depots Tuesday in a crackdown on the so-called "yellow vest" protests against President Emmanuel Macron that have left two people dead.
Hundreds of thousands of people blockaded roads across France on the weekend, wearing high-visibility yellow vests in a national wave of defiance aimed at 40-year-old centrist Macron.
The protests had waned by Tuesday but the disruption underlined the anger and frustration felt by many motorists, particularly in rural areas or small towns, fed up with what they see as the government's anti-car policies, including tax hikes on diesel.
Macron, who has made a point of not backing down in the face of public pressure during his time in office, called Tuesday for more "dialogue" to better explain his policies.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, meanwhile, urged ruling Republic On The Move lawmakers to stand firm in the face of voter criticism, saying the party would reap the rewards of its "constancy and determination".
Two people have been accidentally killed and 530 people injured, 17 seriously, over four days of protests that have come to encompass a wide variety of grievances over the rising cost of living.
A 37-year-old motorcyclist died Tuesday from injuries sustained a day earlier after being hit by a truck making a u-turn to avoid a roadblock in the southeast Drome region, a judicial source said.
The other victim was a 63-year-old woman accidently killed by a panicked driver in the eastern Savoie region on the first day of protests.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has instructed police to break up the remaining roadblocks, particularly those around fuel depots and sites of strategic importance.
"We can see today that there are real excesses from a movement that was for the most part conducted in good spirit on Saturday," he told France 2 TV.
The ministry said about 20 "strategic" sites and fuel depots in several regions were cleared of protesters Tuesday.
Some hardliners kept blockades and slowdowns at some tolls, motorway junctions, and roundabouts.
"The movement won't run out of steam," said Olivier Garrigues, a farmworker at one protest in the south. "There are less people because everyone is working. But we are organised."
Several of the injuries were caused by motorists trying to force their way through roadblocks, but some protesters have also been accused of intimidating and endangering motorists.
A 32-year-old man with a history of violence was given a four-month prison sentence by a Strasbourg court for putting lives at risk by taking part in a human chain across a motorway.
Protests have also erupted in Reunion, a French overseas territory island in the Indian Ocean, where authorities introduced a partial curfew in some neighbourhoods after a night of violence.
AFP judicial sources Tuesday denied media reports that a group of men arrested earlier this month in the city of Saint-Etienne on suspicion of plotting an attack had planned to strike during Saturday's fuel protests.
On Tuesday, the "yellow vests" appeared to be losing steam, with only a fraction of the nearly 300,000 people that manned the barricades on Saturday still camped out in the bitter cold.
Further protests are planned for the weekend, with some calling for a blockade of Paris.
The grassroots movement, which has won backing from opposition parties on both the left and right as well as a majority of respondents in opinion polls, accuses Macron of squeezing the less well-off while reducing taxes for the rich.
"It's about much more than fuel. They (the government) have left us with nothing," Dominique, a 50-year-old unemployed technician told AFP at a roadblock in the town of Martigues, near the southern city of Marseille.
Macron's government, trying to improve its environmental credentials, has vowed not to back down on trying to wean people off their cars through fuel taxes.
The government has unveiled a 500-million-euro package of measures to help low-income households, including energy subsidies and higher scrappage bonuses for the purchase of cleaner vehicles.