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Albanian Students Ready to Fight

March 22, 2001

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Saying they were ready to fight, thousands of ethnic Albanian university students marched through Pristina to show support for the rebel campaign in neighboring Macedonia.

``Our brothers are not alone,″ said Afrim Hoti, a student leader who organized the Wednesday night protest _ the first major show of public support in Kosovo since the ethnic Albanian insurgency began in Macedonia a month ago.

Asked if the Pristina University students were ready to take up arms, Hoti said: ``Of course, at any moment.″

``We are ready to do everything that’s needed of us,″ he said.

The demonstration ran peacefully, with student monitors in red armbands guiding the crowd through the city, escorted by U.N. police and small groups of NATO peacekeepers.

But the tone of the crowd’s chants was anything but calm. Students chanted the war cry ``UCK″ _ the initials shared by the Kosovo Liberation Army that battled Serbian troops here as well as the rebel National Liberation Army fighting in Macedonia.

Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia claim they are discriminated against despite forming at least a quarter of the country’s population of 2 million. The army and police have launched a campaign to break the rebels around the city of Tetovo.

``All who are here are saying stop the terror of Macedonian police for Albanians in Macedonia,″ said Blerim Arifi, a 20-year-old student who was leading the march with his body draped in the Albanian national flag.

Students formed a strong support base for the KLA during the Kosovo conflict that culminated in 1999 with NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign.

``If they call us, we will go. I’m ready to go,″ said Agron Bajgora, a 19-year-old from Podujevo who is studying English. ``But I hope that we won’t need to go there.″

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