Kosovo, Serbian leaders resume dialogue amid tensions

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Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, left, and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic. (AFP)
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Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, right, with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, in Pristina. Kurz said his country “will support any deal that will be reached between Belgrade and Pristina.” (AP Photo)
Updated 08 November 2018
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Kosovo, Serbian leaders resume dialogue amid tensions

  • EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini met with Kosovo president Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic
  • This was their first meeting since July 18, after a scheduled meeting in September between the two presidents fell apart at the last minute

BRUSSELS: Kosovo and Serbia’s presidents met Thursday under EU auspices to resume dialogue aimed at normalizing relations, amid increasing tensions between former foes.
EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was meeting with Kosovo president Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic, her spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic tweeted.
This was their first meeting since July 18, after a scheduled meeting in September between the two presidents fell apart at the last minute due to ongoing tensions.
In 2008, a decade after the 1998-1999 war between Serbia’s forces and pro-independence ethnic Albanian guerrillas, Kosovo broke away from Serbia.
Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence, although more than 100 countries, including the United States and most EU member states, have done so.
“In today’s meeting we will reconfirm Kosovo’s full commitment to achieve a legally binding comprehensive agreement with Serbia,” Thaci tweeted ahead of the meeting.
Vucic said he had no big expectations of a breakthrough but said it was necessary to talk, Serbia’s national broadcaster RTS reported, ahead of the meeting.
After the meeting, that lasted less then an hour, Mogherini said it was “decided to remain in constant contact in the coming days to assess the follow up of today’s meeting.”
She urged both sides “to refrain from words, actions and measures that are contrary to the spirit of normalization,” according to a statement released by the EU’s foreign policy service after the meeting.
“The European Union expects Serbia and Kosovo to swiftly deliver on their commitment to the dialogue given the direct link between comprehensive normalization of relations between them and the concrete prospects for their EU aspirations,” Mogherini said.
Both sides need to reach a binding agreement on their ties to make progress toward EU membership.
The talks resumed two days after Kosovo raised taxes on Serbian goods by 10 percent on Tuesday, saying the move was in retaliation for Belgrade’s efforts to thwart recognition of its former province.
Belgrade is also upset with Pristina’s recent decision to form its own army, despite fierce opposition from the ethnic Serb minority and from Serbia. Kosovo’s security is currently ensured by NATO-led KFOR troops.
In addition, the diplomatic deadlock garnered attention over the summer when officials on both sides discussed the possibility of border changes as part of deal to reset ties.
Local media speculated that a Serb-dominated part of Kosovo could be traded for a mostly Albanian region of southern Serbia.
Rights groups have strongly condemned the proposal, warning that redrawing the map could have a dangerous domino effect in the fractured region.
However, some US and European officials have hinted they might accept such a deal.
Earlier this week, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said his country “will support any deal that will be reached between Belgrade and Pristina.
“I assume that the EU will also support it, even if the deal includes a land exchange or border correction deal” between Kosovo and Serbia, Kurz added during a visit to Pristina.


French island rocked by cost-of-living protests

Updated 1 min 3 sec ago
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French island rocked by cost-of-living protests

SAINT-DENIS DE LA REUNION: Thirty police officers have been injured in five days of protests over rising living costs on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, the government in Paris said Wednesday.
The “yellow vest” movement, which brought hundreds of thousands of people onto French streets last weekend to protest environmental taxes on fuel, has plunged La Reunion into its worst bout of violence in nearly 30 years.
Roads across the volcanic island of 850,000 people off southeast Africa remained blocked Wednesday by demonstrators, causing petrol stations to run low on fuel, and schools were closed for fear of violence.
The protest movement, triggered by a 23-percent rise in the price of diesel in the past year, has come to encompass broader grievances about the rising cost of essentials and a rollback in public services in small-town and rural France.
For several nights running, youths armed with petrol bombs and stones have clashed with police, leaving 30 officers injured so far, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.
One officer lost his hand after a grenade accidentally went off in his car as it was being stoned by demonstrators, the authorities said.
There was no figure available for the number of injured among the demonstrators.
Across France, two people have died and over 500 have been injured since protesters began erecting barricades on roads across the country on Saturday to try to force the government to cancel planned tax hikes on fuel.
On the mainland, the protests had begun to fizzle Wednesday but in La Reunion the situation remained tense, despite the government agreeing to freeze anti-pollution taxes on fuel on the island for three years.
Griveaux blamed the violence on “gangs of youths” using the cover of the protests to “loot, sack and destroy” property and announced that police reinforcements were being sent from Paris.
In mainland France, businesses are also feeling the pinch after five days of unrest.
A PSA Peugeot-Citroen factory in the eastern French town of Sochaux suspended production Wednesday because supply trucks carrying parts from Spain had been unable to get past one of the few remaining roadblocks.
Macron, who has vowed to stay his course despite plummeting poll ratings, on Wednesday threatened “severe” action against protesters who breach the peace, endanger motorists’ lives or intimidate opponents.