Monday, February 12, 2007

Filing Taxes & A Summary of the Weekend

On a slightly lighter note than  the events this weekend, I have finished filing my 2006 taxes with TurboTax Online.  The software is really easy to use and you can pick the amount of help you need from $20-50 for the software and e-filing.  I've done my own taxes online since I came to Kosovo and TurboTax is the best!  The software knows all the rules about foreign income exclusions and will input your information in the correct lines on the 2555 form.  Why should you pay a whole bunch of money for a CPA in the US to do your taxes when you can do it yourself online?! (I know this is a shameless plug for the software, I don't get anything...but it's so easy that I hate to see people wasting their money on filing taxes!)
Summary of the Weekend Events
According to UN sources, the demonstration on Saturday had approximately 4000 people.  International and local police sealed off the area near the government building, not allowing access to PISG or UNMIK compounds.  Violence broke out when protestors tried to get past the police barricade.  Stones, sticks, and even a Molotov cocktail were thrown and some protestors tried to use a minibus to break the police line.  70 people were treated for mostly tear gas inhalation although six people did suffer from more serious injuries.  Two people so far have died due to injuries sustained during the protest (identified as Man Balaj Arben Xheladini, aged 30 and 35 respectively).  A third person is also rumored to have died but there is no verification.  Five international police officers and six KPS officers were injured in the protest.  Three UN vehicles were damaged and there were reports of damage to some buildings, but the locations were not specified.

14 protestors were arrested, 12 of which were sentenced to jail time of between 15-40 days.  The leader of Vetevendosje was also arrested but but he has not yet been sentenced.  Police did receive an extension of the time they are allowed to hold Kurti in custody.  Local police raided Vetevendosje's headquarters around Kosovo and confiscated computer equipment and documents.  Some people were arrested for resisting but a few were later released due to the fact that they were underage.

On Sunday, approximately 200 people held a candlelight ceremony at the government building in remembrance of the two men that passed away.  The ceremony was organized by Vetevendosje.  The funeral for Arben Xhelandini will be held today in Dragodan at 1600 hours.

The blame game is going on strong.  Some people blame the UN, others blame the local government.  Some Albanians in Ferizaj stole the UN flag from the municipal building and burned it.  Kosovo PM Ceku has made statements to the effect that police used excessive force and that the fault lies with aggressive security at the protest.

The KLA war veterans association is calling for the resignation of the Interior Minister, the police commissioner, and the deputy commissioner.  The AAK (Ramush Haradinaj's party) expressed regret over the violence and the "tendency of some individuals to damage Kosovo institutions", a comment directly aimed at Kurti's group.  The Unity Team (Kosovo negotiators) blame Kurti for creating the situation.

Albin Kurti, the leader of the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) movement, said that the police provoked the protestors.  His statement was that there were so many rows of police that they were letting the crowd know that "they were prepared to intervene".  One must wonder then, if Kurti figured this out...why the heck did he push the people to try to break through the police lines?  He is reported to have made statements in front of the crowd to the gist of 'they aren't listening to us, lets go destroy things to show them we mean business'.  Kurti has previously refused to meet with a police representative before the protests saying he would not participate in any meeting where an UNMIK representative was present.  He goes on to say after the protests that he does not feel guilty but "the Police and regime should feel guilty".

At 1600 hours, news emerged that the Kosovo Interior Minister, Fatmir Rexhepi, has resigned following criticism for the handling of this weekend's protests.  Rexhepi said he felt a "moral responsibility" for the response by the police which has been criticized as excessive.  The Kosovo government spokesperson, Ulpiana Lama, has also resigned her position although some local media reports conflict by saying she has only taken a couple of days off.

<soapbox> Any death during a demonstration is a tragedy but after this incident, it is time for the leaders of Vetevendosje to begin taking responsibility for their actions.  As I've mentioned before, most Albanians are happy with the proposal even with the concessions that must be given to the Serbian communities.  The leaders of the Vetevendosje group are nothing more than rabble-rousers.  As a government spokesperson said that there was no reason for Albanians to protest because things are going in the right direction.  Vetevendosje does not seem to have the interests of the majority of the Albanian community in mind.  Their ideas are unrealistic (a referendum for independence, no negotiation with the Serbs, and total withdrawal of the international community) and will never be achieved through the use of violence.
Violence is not the right solution to voice displeasure over the status proposal.  Deflating tires, defacing public property, and violent protests are no way to gain the respect of those who are working to decide the future of Kosovo.  And unfortunately, whether or not the group likes it, UN, the special envoy, and the Security Council are the ones that will convince the world whether or not Kosovo gains its statehood and eventual independence.  A statement from diplomats from the Contact Group condemned the incident and went on to say that "there is no place in Kosovo now or in the future for violence as a means to secure political objectives" and that groups that resort to violence only damage their cause in world opinion.  They also expressed their disappointment that the "Vetevendosje protestors decided to endanger the personal safety of the police and the integrity of the Kosovo Assembly building".</soapbox>