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Thousands pay respects to slain Kosovo Serb leader

January 17, 2018

People follow the casket during a final farewell of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic in the northern, Serb-dominated part of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. Ivanovic's body will be transferred to the Serbian capital, Belgrade, where he will be buried on Thursday. Ivanovic was gunned down Tuesday morning in the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica. (AP Photo/Bojan Slavkovic)

MITROVICA, Kosovo (AP) — Thousands of people in a northern Kosovo town paid their respects on Wednesday to the Serb politician who was gunned down in an attack that has raised fears of instability in the Balkans.

Carrying flowers, mourners lined up in the streets of Mitrovica to escort the coffin with the remains of Oliver Ivanovic as it was taken away for burial in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, on Thursday.

They also lighted candles outside the headquarters of Ivanovic’s political party in Mitrovica, where unknown attackers opened fire on him on Tuesday. Some people sobbed as they stood in silence at the scene.

“What can I say? It’s Serb sadness, misery and misfortune,” said Ljubica Pavlovic, 52, as she placed a rose by Ivanovic’s photo.

An autopsy has shown that Ivanovic was shot six times in the upper torso. He was one of the key politicians in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, a former Serbian province where tensions remain high a decade after Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a separate country. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has announced he will visit Kosovo on the weekend amid fears of renewed tensions after Ivanovic’s killing, which also prompted the suspension of EU-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia.

Serbia’s chief negotiator Marko Djuric insisted on Wednesday his delegation won’t return to the talks before there are results in the investigation of Ivanovic’s slaying. Kosovo police said they are still gathering evidence and have stepped up presence in the area.

In Strasbourg, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov warned in the EU parliament that “you saw what happened yesterday, just one bullet, and the situation changed dramatically.”

“The Balkans are a very fragile construction and if it starts shaking the whole of Europe will start shaking,” he said.

Ivanovic, a moderate, had enemies both among Kosovo Albanians and nationalist Serbs. He maintained relations with NATO and EU officials after Serbia lost control of northern Kosovo following NATO’s 1999 bombing to stop a deadly Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

A Kosovo court convicted him of war crimes from the 1998-99 Kosovo war. The verdict eventually was overturned and a retrial was underway.

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Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia; Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania; and Raf Casert in Brussels, contributed to this report.

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