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Kerry In First Official Visit To Kosovo Calls For Civility

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Kosovo's opposition leaders to stop tear gassing legislators, while urging the Balkan nation's government to stick to its plans to heal ethnic divisions.

In his first visit to the young nation of 1.8 million as secretary of state December 2, Kerry sought to help the aspiring European Union candidate to cope with a deepening political crisis over relations with Serbia, which it broke away from in 1999.

Kosovo has been rocked by riots over the government's efforts to confer greater rights on the nation's Serb minority, which have also prompted opposition legislators to disrupt the parliament's work by releasing tear gas and pepper spray into the chamber.

Meeting Kosovo's Prime Minister Prime Minister Isa Mustafa at the Pristina airport, Kerry said parliament should be "a shrine to democracy, a place of reverence, of respect. That is not the place for tear gas and it is not the place for intimidation."

"All parties need to renounce the use of violence in public life, and commit to engaging with each other peacefully and constructively."

Kosovo and Serbia have been holding European Union-mediated talks to overcome their differences, though Serbia still rejects Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.

Kerry praised Pristina's recent landmark agreement negotiated with Serbia, denying opposition charges that its grant of greater political autonomy to Serbs threatens the nation's independence.

"Make no mistake: we would not support any agreement that would threaten the sovereignty, or the security, or the independence of Kosovo," he said.

The mainly Muslim but overwhelmingly secular country remains staunchly pro-American, and Kerry was greeted at the airport during his brief two-hour visit by a 50-man honor guard and red, white and blue banners.

Kerry raised concerns about the rising risk of radicalization among disaffected and jobless young Kosovars. At least 200 of them are believed to have joined the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq -- the highest share of any European country.

While praising the government's "powerful example for the region with high profile arrests and even stronger legislation to combat extremism," Kerry said still more needs to be done.

"We need to continue to work together to fight back against the false promises of Daesh," he said.

Kerry then flew to Belgrade, where he met Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, a former ultranationalist who was information minister in the late 1990s when former president Slobodan Milosevic led Serbia into war with NATO over Kosovo.

Standing side by side in Belgrade, Kerry praised Vucic, who has rebranded himself as a pro-Western reformer, for opening talks with Kosovo and trying "to put the past in the past."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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