Kosovo police, protesters clash near Serbia border

PODUJEVO, Kosovo Sat Jan 14, 2012 9:54am EST

Albanian supporters of the Self-Determination Movement, an opposition parliamentary party in Kosovo, hold a banner that says ''We are one'' before travelling to Kosovo's border with Serbia to help block the flow of Serb goods into Kosovo in Tirana January 14, 2012. REUTERS/Arben Celi

Albanian supporters of the Self-Determination Movement, an opposition parliamentary party in Kosovo, hold a banner that says ''We are one'' before travelling to Kosovo's border with Serbia to help block the flow of Serb goods into Kosovo in Tirana January 14, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Arben Celi

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PODUJEVO, Kosovo (Reuters) - Police in Kosovo fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of demonstrators trying to stop traffic entering from neighboring Serbia on Saturday.

The Kosovo Albanian protesters, followers of the opposition political party Self-Determination, were trying to block two border crossings in protest at what they say is Serbian obstruction of Kosovo's independence since its secession in 2008.

In the town of Podujevo near the main Merdare border crossing, heavily-armed riot police fired tear gas and water cannon after some 500 demonstrators blocked the road and ignored calls to disperse.

The protesters responded by throwing rocks. Dozens were detained, and some protesters and police were injured, a Reuters witness said.

The security operation was led by Kosovo police, without the visible involvement of NATO peacekeepers or European Union police who also patrol the country of 1.7 million people.

Ninety percent ethnic Albanian, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has been recognized by more than 80 countries including the United States and 22 of the EU's 27 members.

Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 after 11 weeks of NATO bombing to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serb forces in a two-year counter-insurgency war.

But Serbia's opposition to its existence has slowed Kosovo's development as an independent state, obstructing its representation in regional and international bodies and the free movement of people and goods.

Tensions have resurfaced since mid-2011 over the status of a small slice of northern Kosovo abutting Serbia and populated mainly by Serbs who reject the 2008 secession and continue to effectively live as part of Serbia.

Serbs there have been blocking roads for months after Kosovo's government tried to take control of that slice of the northern border but was repelled.

(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Ben Harding)

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