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Kosovo's Serbs boycott polls in northern enclaves

Turnout at 3.47% (1567 voters) out of 45,000 of those registered

24 April, 00:43
(ANSA-AFP) - MITROVICA, 24 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.

Turnout was just 3.47 percent -- 1,567 voters -- out of some 45,000 of those registered, Electoral Commission spokesman Valmir Elezi told media. An estimated 120,000 Serbs live in Kosovo, many in the four northern districts bordering Serbia where Sunday's local polls were 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 voters eligible to vote on Sunday, 95 percent were ethnic Serbs. Belgrade backed the boycott and is 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 before polls closed at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) according to Radoniqi.

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/gw/jj / (ANSA-AFP).

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