Basketball game leads to violence

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The Independent Online

Ethnic Serbs and Albanians have clashed in Kosovo's divided town of Mitrovica, wounding three international peacekeepers and six locals.

The clashes began after Turkey beat Serbia 83-82 in a World Basketball Championship match on Saturday night in Istanbul, keeping them from reaching Sunday's final.

The violence highlighted continuing tensions in Mitrovica just days after Belgrade supported a compromise United Nations resolution on Kosovo, agreeing to an EU-backed dialogue with Kosovo to promote cooperation between the divided communities.

"KFOR strongly condemns the violent clashes in Mitrovica," Major General Erhard Buhler, who leads NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, known as KFOR, said in a statement on Sunday.

"KFOR will not tolerate any violence in Kosovo and I ask the population in Kosovo to help that the troublemakers can be arrested."

Hundreds of people from the ethnic Albanian-dominated southern part of Mitrovica gathered to celebrate Turkey's victory on the Ibar river which separates the two communities.

Serbs from the north and Albanians from the south started pelting each other with stones, prompting Kosovo police and European Union security forces to close the bridge and separate the two groups. Protesters hurling Molotov cocktails were dispersed by police using tear gas.

Turks and most Albanians share the Muslim religion. Kosovo is home to a sizable Turkish minority and Turkey is a strong supporter of Kosovo's independence.

Early on Sunday, a French police officer serving with the European Union police and justice mission (EULEX) in Kosovo was shot in the leg. Karin Limdal, an EU spokeswoman, said the officer was not seriously wounded, adding: "We don't know where the bullet came from or the circumstances."

A spokesman for NATO in Kosovo said two NATO soldiers were slightly wounded in the clashes, but did not provide details.

Police said that five civilians and a local police officer were also injured.

Serbia lost control over Kosovo, its former southern province, in 1999 after NATO bombing forced Serbia to end its crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians. Violent ethnic strife, particularly in Kosovo's Serb-dominated north, has persisted.