Masked gang's attack on polling station in Kosovo threatens elections

Widespread voter intimidation heightens doubts over EU-brokered plan

Mitrovice

The EU-brokered plan to integrate Kosovo’s Serbs into the rest of the country appeared to be headed for disaster on Sunday night after a gang of masked men attacked the largest polling station in the anarchic north of the country amid a widespread campaign of voter intimidation designed to derail local elections.

Serbia has never accepted the independence declared by Kosovo in 2008, but in order to win accession talks to the EU, it agreed earlier this year to allow Kosovo-run local elections for the first time in the Serb-majority enclave of North Kosovo. The agreement has been met with much resistance from locals, who make up around a third of Kosovo’s 140,000 Serbs. Many feel abandoned by Belgrade and see the elections as a tacit recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

At around 5pm local time last night, a gang stormed into a polling station in the Serb part of Mitrovice, the largest town in North Kosovo.

Ballots had apparently been destroyed and international election observers forced to flee without ballot boxes.

Throughout the day, groups of men surrounded polling stations telling people not to vote and shouting abuse at mayoral candidates.

“The politicians in Belgrade are traitors, trying to complete Kosovo’s independence with our votes,” Vladica Kostic, a member of the Council for Boycott, said. “But our campaign has been a great success – hardly anyone has come to vote today.”

Stickers calling for a bojkot (boycott) were plastered across the Serb half of the city and polling rooms were almost deserted yesterday. By lunchtime, one typical polling station had received just eight votes from a voter list of almost 1,000.

“It’s mostly old people – we’ve had only one youngish guy,” an election volunteer said. The most optimistic estimates put the turnout at around 15 per cent before the attack on the main polling station.

An underlying threat of violence had already helped keep people away. “I might not get beaten up for voting today,” a local journalist, Branko Jaksic, said. “But in 10 days’ time, maybe my car will be set on fire. Will Belgrade buy me a new one?”

The resistance is driven as much by material concerns as it is by sectarianism. Under the agreement, Serbia has promised to cut funding to North Kosovo.

For years, locals have benefited from Belgrade’s patronage, with public servants often drawing salaries from both Serbia and Kosovo, and hardly anyone paying tax.

“I pay €10  (£8.5) a month for water and less than €2 for garbage collection – that’s it,” Mr Jaksic said.

Smuggling and other organised crime is rampant in the lawless atmosphere. The killing of an EU customs officer – shot dead by unknown gunmen in September – demonstrated the huge challenge Kosovo and the international community will face in trying to establish normal institutions here after the elections. “It’s a disaster for the EU. If it’s a boycott of 85 to 90 per cent, it’s the end of Brussels’ agreement,” said Ilir Deda, of the Pristina-based think tank Kipred.

Other analysts disagree. With Serbia, Kosovo and the EU all desperate to paint the elections as a success, there will be considerable pressure to gloss over resistance in the North.

“Legally, the number of voters makes no difference – there will be a mayor and institutions and they will carry on their work,” Ardian Arifaj, of the Kosovo Institute for Policy Research, said. “But morally, how can they claim to be representing people in the North?

“The EU is paying the price for tolerating lawlessness in the North for all these years, which it did because it was afraid of undermining pro-EU forces in Belgrade.”

Meanwhile, in the rest of Kosovo, the elections were much more popular, with early results showing a turnout above 60 per cent, and the main concern has been to avoid a repeat of the industrial-scale fraud experienced in past polls.

With results due late at night, parties were hoping for a boost ahead of parliamentary elections in mid-2014.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Secondary supply teachers required in Wisbech

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary teachers ne...

PPA Cover Teachers Required in Doncaster

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Primary PPA Teachers required for wo...

Maths teachers needed for supply work in Ipswich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teachers requir...

Executive Assistant/Events Coordinator - Old Street, London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Executive Assistant/Event...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering