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Serbs redo vote in tense northern Kosovo city

November 17, 2013

MITROVICA, Kosovo (AP) — Minority Serbs in a tense northern Kosovo city cast ballots under tight security on Sunday, redoing a vote that was derailed when masked men attacked staff and destroyed voting materials.

Special police units in bulletproof vests backed by members of the European Union police and justice mission and armed NATO peacekeepers stood outside polling stations to prevent a repeat of the electoral violence that stopped the Nov. 3 poll in ethnically divided Mitrovica.

The incident was blamed on hardline Serbs who fear the vote endorses Kosovo’s 2008 secession from Serbia. Kosovo authorities said Sunday that voter turnout to elect a mayor of the Serb-run part of the city and members of the local council was 22 percent.

Serb participation in the vote was a key part of an EU-brokered deal to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo, which is majority ethnically Albanian.

The vote sets up a mayor from each side of the ethnic divide, a step the Kosovo government sees as necessary to prevent more strife. Serbia says the vote gives minority Serbs more self-rule and paves the way to set up an assembly of Serbs across Kosovo.

Krstimir Pantic, a hardline Serb and one of two main contenders for the mayor’s office, said the vote gives Serb leaders in Kosovo the right to defy the central government in Pristina. His rival is Oliver Ivanovic, a moderate Serb who served in the past as Serbia’s official representative in Kosovo and who has shown a willingness to work with ethnic Albanians.

Mitrovica was split into an Albanian south and Serbian north as Serb forces withdrew following NATO’s 78 day air war that ended the country’s ethnic conflict in 1999.

It has often been a scene of clashes between ethnic Albanians and Serbs with NATO peacekeepers caught in the middle. Some 60,000 Serbs live in Kosovo’s north and about 100,000 in the rest of the country of some 2 million people.