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Kosovo Parliament Passes Border Deal Despite Tear Gas


Kosovo lawmakers stand amid tear gas after canisters were released by opposition lawmakers during a parliament session in Pristina on March 21.

Kosovo's parliament has approved a long-pending border agreement with Montenegro despite the opposition's use of tear gas to prevent a vote.

Lawmakers on March 21 voted 80-11 to endorse the border demarcation agreement, ensuring its passage with the minimum two-thirds support required in the 120-seat legislature.

Earlier in the day, lawmakers from the opposition Self-Determination Party, also known as the Vetevendosje movement (VV), threw tear-gas canisters into the chamber to block the vote, causing deputies to withdraw choking and spluttering.

The session failed four consecutive times to call the vote, but parliament speaker Kadri Veseli insisted it would take place.

"It's a disaster for the country. Such messages should not be sent to our international friends," Veseli said.

Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti complained that most of the party's lawmakers were barred from the vote or taken away by police for questioning.

"Today, 80 lawmakers joined the treason of President [Hashim] Thaci, joined the violation of Kosovo's Constitution and its territorial integrity," he said.

Representatives of Western powers denounced the use of tear gas in parliament, and urged legislators to hold the vote in favor of the 2015 border treaty.

The approval of the deal was a key condition for Kosovo's citizens to travel freely within its Schengen visa-free travel zone.

However, Vetevendosje opposed the deal, arguing that it would wrongly cede some 8,000 hectares of Kosovo's territory to its neighbor. The allegation has been denied by international experts.

Vetevendosje lawmakers have repeatedly released tear gas to disrupt parliament sessions over the past three years.

"Congratulations Kosovo!," the U.S. ambassador to Pristina, Greg Delawie, wrote on Twitter after the vote.

The European Commission said the ratification of the border deal represents “a real achievement, a welcome and concrete progress.”

“The European Union expects all sides in Kosovo to continue the hard work and successful efforts to achieve visa-free travel for the people of Kosovo and in the interest of the region,” said a joint statement by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, European commissioner for home affairs Dmitris Avramopoulos, and EU commissioner for enlargement Johannes Hahn.

The Montenegrin parliament quickly ratified the agreement after it was reached in 2015.

With reporting by AP
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