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Yugoslavia: Serbs Clash With Albanian Protesters

Pristina, 19 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Reports from Kosovo say heavy clashes erupted today in the Serbian province between ethnic Albanians and local Serbs, leaving several people injured on both sides. The violence erupted after some 40,000 mainly young ethnic Albanian demonstrators marched through the provincial capital, Pristina, jangling keys to mark the expiration of a 10-day deadline set by the West for the Serb government to open talks with ethnic Albanians. Reports say the group later clashed with another group of ethnic Serbs gathering for their own protest. The two groups started hurling stones, pieces of wood and iron bars at each other.

The situation calmed down after police intervened, using tear gas to break up the clash and disperse the crowd.

The Kosovo Serbs said they would hold a rally later this afternoon to protest against "terrorism and separatism."

The unrest came as German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine arrived in Belgrade to try and defuse the crisis over Kosovo, a Serbian province where ethnic Albanians make up a large majority of the population.

Earlier today, Serbian President Milan Milutinovic offered self-rule to Kosovo but again rejected Kosovo Albanians' demand for independence. Milutinovic also for the first time indicated Serbia may be ready to accept OSCE mediation if Yugoslavia is readmitted to the organization.