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The Kosovar karate team is stopped at the Serbian border at Merdare on May 9.

BELGRADE -- A Kosovar karate team has been barred from Serbia in a dispute over symbols of the independent former province, preventing the athletes from competing in a European Championship event this week.

In a move that drew an angry response from Pristina, the Serbian government's office for Kosovo said on May 9 that the Kosovar delegation was stopped at the border because members were carrying state symbols that are not recognized by Belgrade.

"Despite our will to be good hosts...athletes from Kosovo will not be part of the competition," the statement said. It said that "two groups of people who tried to enter Serbian territory were sent back," one late on May 8 and one early on May 9.

The statement also said that Kosovo can compete at the May 10-14 event in the northern city of Novi Sad only if it does not display state symbols.

Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj called Serbia's actions were "unacceptable, unprecedented, and terrible" and said the move "does not contribute to the normalization of the relations between the two countries."

Alvin Karaci, one of the athletes, expressed dismay in comments to RFE/RL.

"We were preparing for this championship and we were sure we would participate. We knew that we might have some misunderstandings with the Serbian side in Novi Sad. But, for special units to block the road at the border -- we did not expect that," he said.

"This display was not pleasant. We are athletes. We are neither politicians nor criminals to welcome us like that," Karaci said.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognized by 116 countries, but Belgrade has refused to recognize Kosovo and still regards it as a Serbian province.

The countries are under pressure to improve their relations in order to advance their efforts to join the EU, but tensions remain high.

A handball match that would have set a precedent was canceled by host country Serbia in March, a day after dozens of chanting Serb youths carrying flares and national flags gathered outside the venue, and Serbia was disqualified.

With reporting by AP and AFP
Protesters rally to show their anger at the attack on Montenegrin journalist Olivera Lakic in Podgorica on May 9.

Hundreds protested in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, on May 9 after a prominent crime and corruption reporter was shot, the latest attack on journalists in the small Balkan country that is seeking EU membership.

Carrying banners reading "Stop Violence," and "For A Life Without Fear," the protesters demanded authorities find the assailants who opened fire late on May 8 on Olivera Lakic, who works for the independent Vijesti daily.

Lakic was wounded in the leg during the attack outside her apartment in Podgorica and is now in stable condition in hospital.

Lakic has written about alleged murky businesses involving top state officials and their families. Montenegro's long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists has long been accused of corruption and crime links, which it has denied.

This is not the first time Lakic has been physically attacked. Six years ago, in 2012, Lakic was brutally beaten, at the same spot, in front of her apartment. She was able to identify the attacker, who was later arrested by police.

Zeljko Ivanovic, general manager of Vijesti, said there have been a total of 25 attacks on the newpaper's journalists and offices. The daily is known for its independent and critical journalism.

"[The government] created an atmosphere in which there are state enemies and traitors," said Ivanovic. "Can this society survive without a single free media, journalist, or intellectual?"

The United States and European Union expressed concern over the attack.

U.S. Embassy Charge d'Affaires Judy Kuo said "this crime requires a swift, determined investigation to bring those responsible to justice.

"The United States calls on Montenegro to foster a safe environment for journalists to fulfill their important role," she added.

Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland said on May 9 that he is "shocked and saddened" by the shooting.

"The work of journalists and free media are essential to the functioning of any democracy," he said. "Attacks on journalists are therefore also an attack on democracy."

With reporting by AP

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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