Kosovo police arrest six in connection with blast outside parliament

August 30, 2016 6:55 AM EDT

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By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo police arrested six people on Tuesday in connection with a grenade fired at the parliament building earlier this month that was claimed by a hardline nationalist group.

The suspects are all members of the biggest opposition party, Vetevendosje, whose lawmakers have released teargas in parliament several times over the past year while its supporters clashed with police outside.

They oppose an EU-brokered accord with Serbia giving more autonomy to Serb-held areas of Kosovo and a border deal with Montenegro, both of which are essential for building closer ties with the European Union.

While making the arrests, police recovered three automatic rifles, two pistols and a rifle with a telescopic sight, police and prosecutors said in a joint statement.

The attack on parliament happened on Aug. 4, when two motorcyclists fired a rocket-propelled grenade as they drove past. The building was damaged but no one was hurt.

"We have identified the suspects who planned, organized and executed the attack and also have taken responsibility for carrying out this attack," police and prosecutors said in the statement.

The leader of Vetevendosje said the arrests were political.

"Today's arrests are a classic act of how political opponents are persecuted,” Visar Ymeri told a news conference.

He added that his party would do everything it could, both inside and outside parliament, to stop the assembly approving the border deal with Montenegro at a vote scheduled for Thursday.

The deal, endorsed by the government, is a pre-condition for Kosovo to eventually get visa-free travel with the European Union. Its opponents say it should be renegotiated because it would take 8,200 hectares of territory out of Kosovo.

On Sunday a hand grenade was thrown at the home of the head of Kosovo's state broadcaster and a week earlier an explosive device was thrown into the courtyard of the TV's headquarters.

Both attacks were claimed by a group opposed to the border deal, but it was unclear whether the six arrested on Tuesday were linked to that group.

Landlocked Kosovo, most of whose 1.8 million citizens are ethnic Albanian, declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but is not recognized by Belgrade.

(Editing by Ivana Sekularac and Robin Pomeroy)

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