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Kosovar Court Gives Four Lawmakers Suspended Jail Terms For Disrupting Parliament

Top opposition lawmaker Albin Kurti (center) being arrested by Kosovar police in November

A Kosovar court has found four opposition lawmakers guilty of repeatedly disrupting parliament by releasing tear gas in the chamber and has handed down suspended jail sentences for the legislators.

The four members of the left-wing Self-Determination Party -- Albin Kurti, Donika Kadaj Bujupi, Albulena Haxhiu and Faton Topalli -- were sentenced on January 3 to up to 18 months in prison.

Under the court ruling, they won't be jailed unless they commit the same crime during a two-year probation period.

The verdict said the defendants had used "tear gas without authorization" in four parliamentary sessions to block lawmakers from working.

"They have broken the law by using weapons or dangerous instruments," Judge Beqir Kalludra said as he read the verdict.

Another 11 lawmakers face the same charges and are awaiting verdicts.

Last November, another party member was sentenced to eight years in jail for taking part in a grenade attack on the parliament building.

The opposition lawmakers since 2015 have used disruptive tactics in parliament -- including releasing tear gas, blowing whistles, and throwing water bottles -- to protest a proposed border-demarcation agreement with Montenegro.

They say Kosovo is ceding territory under the agreement, a claim denied by the previous government and by international experts.

The agreement, which is yet to be approved by parliament, is a precondition for a visa-free regime for Kosovar citizens in the European Union's Schengen travel zone.

Haxhiu defended the the lawmakers' disruptive actions, saying "we defended the republic, its sovereignty and integrity."

Political tensions in Kosovo remain high over the border deal, which is due to come up for approval again soon.

The court verdict comes at a delicate moment for the Self-Determination Party, the biggest single party in parliament, whose leader resigned recently amid party turmoil.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters
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