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Montenegrin Police Disperse Demonstrators, 22 Hurt


Riot police clash with pro-Serb opposition supporters in Podgorica.
PODGORICA (Reuters) -- More than 20 people have been injured after Montenegrin police used tear gas against demonstrators protesting the government's decision to recognize Kosovo, a move seen by many as a stab in the back for Serbia.

Around 10,000 people from across the country protested in the capital, Podgorica, in the early evening. Waving Serbian flags and shouting "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia," they demanded the immediate reversal of the decision.

After several speeches, a Reuters reporter saw some young men throwing flaming torches at police officers. Some threw rocks at the parliament, breaking a few windows.

Some 22 people including 10 police officers have been injured according to the sources in Podgorica medical center.

"Police detained 28 individuals for their involvement in the violent protests," a statement issued late on October 13 said.

It added that the protests opposition parties scheduled to hold on October 16 will be banned.

Montenegro, a former Yugoslav republic of some 650,000 people, voted to end its loose union with Serbia in 2006 and has since enjoyed strong growth, especially from tourism. But many Montenegrins consider themselves Serbs and say the country should support Serbia in its opposition to the secession of Kosovo, which declared independence in February.

"We demand the government revoke its decision on the recognition of Kosovo. We also demand a nationwide referendum to be called on the issue," said Vasilije Lalosevic, a member of parliament for the opposition, pro-Serbian Socialist People's Party.

Opposed To Move

Some of the demonstrators held the flags of Greece and Spain -- two of the five European Union member countries that have not recognized Kosovo, compared with 22 that have.

Montenegro recognized Kosovo on October 9, but pro-Serb opposition parties said this did not reflect popular feeling in the Balkan state, citing opinion polls showing that as many as 80 percent of Montenegrins opposed the move.

They said they would demand early elections if the government turned a deaf ear to their referendum request.

Freed from its ties to Serbia and the historical burden of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, Montenegro signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union in 2007.

Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and other officials say Western countries have exerted pressure on Montenegro to define its stance on Kosovo.

"Djukanovic broke promises given in the election campaign," said Nebojsa Medojevic, a leader of the opposition Alliance for Changes. "It is not clear why he spoiled relations with Serbia."

Montenegro's decision was met with anger in Belgrade, which ordered its ambassador to leave the country immediately.

Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 when NATO waged a bombing campaign to stop its ethnic cleansing of civilians in a counterinsurgency war in the province.

Since Kosovo declared independence on February 17 of this year, 50 countries, also including the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, have recognized it.