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Kosovo's Serbs boycott polls in northern enclaves

Belgrade is backing, pushing for "association of Serb councils"

23 April, 13:38
(ANSA-AFP) - MITROVICA, 23 APR - Kosovo's ethnic Serb minority boycotted Sunday's local elections in the north, a move that could exacerbate tensions between the government and the community, which is largely loyal to neighbouring Serbia.

An estimated 120,000 Serbs live in Kosovo, many in the four northern districts bordering Serbia where Sunday's local polls were being held -- an attempt to restore the local governments after their ethnic Serb councillors resigned in November. There are frequent bouts of unrest in the northern enclaves, where many ethnic Serbs have, like Belgrade, never accepted the unilateral declaration of independence that Kosovo made from its neighbour in 2008.

Of the 45,000 voters eligible to vote on Sunday, 95 percent are ethnic Serbs. Belgrade is backing the boycott and pushing for an "association of Serb councils" -- a form of autonomy for the Serb minority in Kosovo, where the majority of the 1.8 million inhabitants are ethnic Albanian.

"I hate everyone who's taking part in these elections...

because they're accepting the Albanian state," said Milan Bulatovic, a resident of the northern city of Mitrovica, referring to independent Kosovo. The head of the electoral commission, Kreshnik Radoniqi, said the 19 polling stations had "opened as planned" on Sunday. No incidents of violence were reported. Sunday's boycott means, in theory, that ethnic Albanian parties could take control of the local councils in the north. In March, Kosovo and Serbia stopped short of signing a potentially landmark deal to normalise their relations, despite months of shuttle diplomacy by European Union mediators.

str-ih/gil/giv / (ANSA-AFP).

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