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Monday, February 12, 2007

Police raid protest group after Kosovo clashes

PRISTINA, Serbia, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Police in Kosovo raided the ethnic Albanian political movement behind a weekend protest that ended in clashes with police and the deaths of two protesters, United Nations police said on Monday.

Computers and documents were seized at five locations in the U.N.-run province late on Sunday and three people were arrested, a U.N. statement said. Protest leader Albin Kurti had already been taken into custody at the weekend.

U.N. and Kosovo police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Saturday to disperse about 3,000 people protesting against a U.N. plan they say falls short of independence for the breakaway Serbian province.

Two men died and a third was in a coma.

Other than a silent vigil on Sunday at the site of the clashes, reaction to the deaths was muted. It focused more on the police response than on the cause of the protesters, who lacked the support of any major political party.

Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku said police had used "excessive force" and the editor of the newspaper Koha Ditore called for an "urgent investigation, the resignations of some locals and the dismissal of some internationals".

"I don't want Kosovo to become Palestine," Agron Bajrami wrote in an editorial on Monday.

Kurti's supporters say the U.N. plan's provisions for a powerful European overseer and self-government for the 100,000 Serbs will only prolong Kosovo's limbo status and leave Serbia with a permanent foothold.

Kosovo Albanian leaders back the proposal by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, saying it goes far enough in setting the framework for an independent state.

Kosovo, where 90 percent of the population is ethnic Albanian, has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of killing and expelling civilians in a two-year war with guerrillas.

Saturday's riots, the worst since March 2004 when 19 people died in Albanian mob attacks on Serbs, underlined fears of mass unrest if there is no decision on independence soon.

It was due in 2006, but has been delayed by Western powers trying to balance Albanian impatience with concern not to radicalise Serbia.
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