June 27, 2013 / 1:24 PM / 6 years ago

Protesters fight police as Kosovo approves Serbia deal

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo’s parliament approved an EU-brokered agreement on creating normal ties with neighboring Serbia on Thursday as protesters opposing the deal clashed with riot police in Pristina.

Protesters clash with the police at the entrance to Kosovo's parliament and government buildings June 27, 2013. REUTERS/Hazir Reka

The 120-seat assembly passed the deal, reached under European Union auspices in April, with 84 votes in favor.

In unruly scenes outside, police used pepper spray to disperse protesters and pushed them away from the entrance to parliament and other government buildings in the capital. Some demonstrators threw cans of pink paint at the police.

Police said 17 officers had been wounded and around 70 protesters arrested in the scuffle.

The protest was staged by Vetevendosje, an opposition party that objects to the deal with Serbia, which it says would create an autonomous Serb region within Kosovo that would cripple the young country’s sovereignty and cement ethnic partition.

The U.S. embassy called the protest “violent tactics in obstructing the democratic process”. Protesters had tried to stop U.S. Ambassador Tracey Jacobson from entering parliament, but police and bodyguards eventually escorted her inside.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told legislators that achieving normal relations with Serbia would be difficult and complicated, but said he would pursue talks with Belgrade.

“The independence road is irreversible and the process of normalizing relations between the two independent countries is unavoidable,” he declared.

The agreement, which will allow Serbia and Kosovo to start moving closer towards EU membership, is designed to end the ethnic partition of majority-Albanian Kosovo, five years after the territory of 1.7 million seceded from Serbia.

Kosovo is now recognized by 100 nations, including the United States and 22 of the EU’s 27 members.

Serbia lost control of the territory in 1999, when NATO bombed for 11 weeks to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces trying to crush an insurgency.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Alistair Lyon

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