Kosovo postpones contested border vote after lawmakers stay away
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A graffiti, which reads: "Kosovo to Qakorr" (regarding demarcation of the border with Montenegro), is pictured at a crossroad in the village of Haxaj, Peja, in Kosovo, near the border with Montenegro, August 28, 2016. REUTERS/Hazir Reka
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By Fatos Bytyci
PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo's government dropped plans for a parliamentary vote on a bitterly contested law on establishing its definitive border with Montenegro on Thursday after coalition allies stayed away from the session.
The row has fueled months of violent clashes in the young country, including the firing of rocket-propelled grenades at parliament.
"We are taking this vote off the agenda for today," Prime Minister Isa Mustafa said after 11 lawmakers from his ethnic Serb coalition ally scuppered the law by not showing up.
Mustafa's announcement was greeted with cheers from about 1,000 opposition supporters who had been facing off against police in riot gear defending the parliament building with armored vehicles.
A two-thirds majority would have been needed to force the measure through. Mustafa said the government would seek to pass it later.
The European Union has said the border deal, which the opposition says would see swathes of forested highland transferred to neighboring Montenegro, is crucial if Kosovars are to join their former Yugoslav neighbors in enjoying visa-free travel to the bloc.
Vetevendosje, the largest opposition party, has said it will do everything it can, both inside and outside parliament, to stop the assembly approving the border deal.
Since October, its lawmakers have repeatedly released tear gas inside parliament in protest against the law, while six of its supporters were arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of firing a rocket-propelled grenade at parliament.
They say the deal, opposed even by some of the government's own lawmakers, would give Montenegro 8,000 hectares of Kosovo's territory, though the government and others, including the United States, say this is not the case.
Earlier, police said they had found 50 rucksacks containing petrol bombs in a private garage in Pristina. Two Vetevendosje lawmakers were also arrested inside parliament carrying what police described as "suspicious spray."
Kosovo broke from neighboring Serbia in 1999 after a NATO bombing campaign halted a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" directed against ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces who were trying to stamp out a two-year insurgency.
The majority-Albanian territory, which declared independence in 2008, has been recognized by more than 100 countries, including Western powers, but not by Serbia and its big-power ally Russia or several EU members such as Spain.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci, writing by Thomas Escritt, Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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