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Western Leaders Warn Tear Gas Attacks Hurting Kosovo

Western leaders are warning that repeated moves by opposition lawmakers to obstruct the work of Kosovo's parliament by releasing tear gas in the chamber are hurting the Balkan nation.

Jacques Miniane, the head of an International Monetary Fund mission visiting Pristina, said October 23 that the IMF is concerned that the repeated delays in parliamentary deliberations will damage investors' confidence in Kosovo.

"This is delaying the approval of important legislation, some of which is critical to the government's economic reform agenda and to the viability of Kosovo's Fund-supported program," Miniane said.

In June, Kosovo reached a deal with the IMF for a 185 million euro ($204 million) stand-by loan in exchange for carrying out economic reforms that are under consideration in Parliament.

The United States, the biggest supporter of the young state, said the persistent obstruction by opposition lawmakers will hurt Kosovo's ambition to join the European Union.

"To those people who bring weapons into the Kosovo assembly...I have a message," U.S. Ambassador Greg Delawie said October 22. "You are hurting Kosovo's economy, you are risking isolating Kosovo from the Euro-Atlantic community."

Opposition lawmakers dismissed the warnings, however, and waged two more tear gas attacks on October 23.

Donika Kada Bujupi of the opposition Alliance for the Future, who launched one of the tear gas canisters in Parliament that sent lawmakers rushing from the room, said the attacks would continue until Kosovo "cancels" an agreement to normalize relations with Serbia that was recently brokered by the European Union.

"We will use anything necessary to stop this session," said Glauk Konjufca of the opposition Self-Determination Party.

Kosovo's independence, which it declared in 2008, has never been recognized by Serbia although 100 other countries, including the United States and most of Western Europe, do recognize it.

The accord reached with Serbia in August would give more rights to Serb-dominated areas of Kosovo, prompting the opposition to assert it amounts to a unilateral abdication of power by Kosovo.

The tear gas attacks forced the cancellation of scheduled legislative sessions twice on October 23. Opposition lawmakers also hurled plastic water bottles at the Speaker and Cabinet ministers.

Police said no lawmaker was injured or arrested, but security guards had to enter the chamber to prevent a physical clash among the lawmakers.

Outside the building, the police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters who gathered in front of the parliament building throwing Molotov cocktails.

Besides opposing the landmark accord with Serbia, activists are protesting a separate accord demarcating Kosovo's border with Montenegro.

It was the third parliamentary session in which the opposition smuggled in tear gas despite tight police checks of everyone entering the building, including diplomats.

In two other sessions the opposition blew whistles to prevent debate, and on another occasion eggs were thrown at the prime minister.

Earlier this week, President Atifete Jahjaga failed to persuade political parties to negotiate to resolve the crisis.

"It is not possible to sit down together because they have shown their real face, that they sell the state interests and defend their properties. Debating with them is over," said Konjufca.

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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