Dozens injured as violence flares again in Kosovo

(dpa) - More than 100 protesters, international police and NATO peacekeepers of the Kosovo Force (KFOR), were injured when violence again flared in Kosovo's hotspot town Mitrovica.

The situation has quieted down by noon, but remained tense, UN police and KFOR said.

Rioting erupted after police and KFOR raided a UN courthouse which Serb protesters forcibly entered and occupied on Friday. Police said 53 people found inside the district court were arrested.

Hundreds of Serbs then rushed to the scene and started throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, setting several KFOR and police vehicles on fire.

Serbian media reports say that some 20 of the detainees from the courthouse fled during the riot, while KFOR and UN police fired teargas and flare bombs into the mob.

Police spokesman Besim Hoti said 25 UN police officers were injured, while the KFOR spokesman Etienne Du Fayet said eight peacekeepers were injured.

"This morning we received couple of hits by fire arms, cocktail Molotov's and even hand grenades. Those bullet hits were fired towards KFOR and injured our soldiers," he told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa.

KFOR responded with warning shots and is considering to impose a curfew in northern Mitrovica, populated almsot exclusively by Serbs.

UN police was ordered to pull out of northern Mitrovica and leave it to KFOR to establish control in the town, the UN Mission in Kosovo said. KFOR had deployed 400 additional troops to the riot zone.

Mitrovica is the hub of the largest Serb enclave in the Albanian- dominated Kosovo. UN police said it has maintained control in the rest of the enclave, covering close to a fifth of Kosovo's territory.

Among the 70-80 Serbs wounded in the riots, two sustained life- threatening injuries, local Serb hospital sources were quoted as saying.

The government in Pristina, which declared independence of Kosovo from Serbia a month ago, backed the raid aimed at restoring control over the courthouse.

"We asked UN and KFOR from the start of the crisis to restore law and order and protect Kosovo's institutions," deputy premier Hajredin Kuci told dpa.

He said the "UN Mission in Kosovo and KFOR should deploy its entire force and authority in all parts of Kosovo."

In Belgrade, Serbian President Boris Tadic appealed on UN and KFOR not to use excessive force and said Serbs should not provoke.

Allies of Tadic's nationalist rival, the outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, however nodded approvingly at protests even when they turned violent.

"Activities that the Serbs undertake ... which sometimes include elements of low-level violence, are a product of Kosovo's illegal declaration of independence," Samardzic said earlier.

On Monday a deputy head of the UN administration, Lawrence Rossin, called on Samardzic to exert his influence and calm down the situation in northern Kosovo, of UN police officers is reported," Ivanko told dpa.

Unofficial reports say that at least some 20-30 UN international police officers have been injured from the clashes with the angry Kosovo Serb demonstrators, up till now. Serb government official Slobodan Samardzic has just left central Kosovo and is heading for Mitrovica North, police sources said.

The hardliners in Belgrade hope to keep Pristina's authority out of northern Kosovo, where Serbia runs parallel governing structures, by enforcing a de facto ethnic partition and a comprehensive boycott of UN and other international organizations.

Kosovo had been run by UN since NATO ousted Belgrade's security forces from it in 1999.

Spates of violence had marred the UN governance, the worst four years ago Monday, when 19 people were killed and hundreds of Serbian homes and dozens of churches torched by Albanian mobs.

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