BELGRADE // The Serbian government yesterday approved a landmark agreement to normalise relations with breakaway Kosovo, but thousands of Kosovo Serb demonstrators - chanting "treason, treason" - denounced the deal.
Up to 10,000 flag-waving protesters gathered in the divided northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica, demanding that the EU-brokered agreement be annulled and branding the Serbian officials who endorsed it "traitors".
The Serbian government approved the deal unanimously at an extraordinary session and ordered ministries to implement it, said the government spokesman Milivoje Mihajlovic. The agreement could end years of tensions and put the Balkan rivals on a path to European Union membership.
The prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo reached a tentative EU-mediated deal in Brussels on Friday that would give Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership authority over rebel Kosovo Serbs. In return, the minority Serbs would get wide autonomy within Kosovo.
After the Serbian approval, the EU's executive commission recommended that the bloc should start membership negotiations with Serbia. "Serbia has taken very significant steps towards visible and sustainable improvement in relations with Kosovo," the commission said in a report.
Kosovo, which is considered by nationalists to be the medieval cradle of the Serbian state and religion, declared independence in 2008. Serbia has vowed never to recognise it, and Serbian officials insist that the latest agreement does not mean Belgrade has de-facto recognised Kosovo's statehood.
It is not clear how the deal will be implemented on the ground in northern Kosovo where hardline Serb leaders vehemently reject any authority coming from Pristina's ethnic Albanians and consider the region a part of Serbia.
In Mitrovica, hardline Kosovo Serbs said they will prevent the implementation of the agreement and form their own, self-ruled region in the north.
On Sunday, Kosovo's parliament voted in favour of a resolution to support the initial agreement. The Serbian parliament is expected to do the same later this week.
* Associated Press