Saturday, February 10, 2007

Protest Day

1300 CET:  The main roads (Police Avenue, Mother Theresa) around downtown Pristina have been closed off to traffic for the Vetevendosje demonstration today.  Reportedly, the group is bussing in protesters from all over Kosovo (quite a few villages).  Quite frequently, groups will "purchase" supporters from the villages, paying them to come to the capital to participate in the protests.  Whether or not Vetevendosje has employed this tactic is not know but it has occurred in previous Pristina protests by other groups.
The demonstration is expected to begin by the municipal government building at the beginning of Mother Theresa street.  Often the group will gather around the building and the Skenderbeq statute in the square.  The protest is then expected to go from the government building down to the Grand Hotel and loop down to the UN Mission HQ.  The important thing to remember about the protests is that the Vetevendosje group has never actually filed for the right to demonstrate as required by law.  President Fatmir Sedjiu said that the group had the right to demonstrate but not the right to "destabilize" Kosovo...however, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea if the government starts making political groups follow the rules for demonstrations.  Why the local government does nothing to stop the group that often turns violent, is a question on many minds but no one seems to know the answer.  Because the paperwork to demonstration has never been filed, it is difficult to actually know what the organizers have planned and the path of the crowd.

1545 CET:  Tear gas and rubber bullets were fired at the thousands of Albanian protestors as they tried to break through a police barricade.  One person was reported to be injured according to Reuters but there is no official count of protestors or injured persons yet.  The roads to UNMIK Mission HQ was sealed off from the protestors, perhaps to prevent any damage to the building like during the Flag Day demonstration.  International Civpol officers and Italian Carabinieri sealed off the roads with armored personnel carriers.  Approximately 500 riot police are reported to have been armed with water cannons near the government building.  I have to give it to those that planned the security for today...they did an awesome job of containing the protest to the government building area :)  It made my blood boil when I saw the face of my Mission HQ after the Flag Day demonstration...such tactics are unwarranted and immature :-P

1640 CET:  A crowd of protestors has attacked a UN vehicle parked on the street near Te Komiteti restaurant and is reported to be "trying to destroy it completely".  A couple minutes later, the car is reported to be damaged and KFOR responded to the scene.  UN Security had instructed staff to move their vehicles to "safe areas" this morning but I guess not everyone listened to the many, many messages that were sent out.  Security has again instructed the staff to remove their vehicles, particularly from the streets around the government building and OSCE HQ.

Movement in Pristina has been restricted and all staff have been instructed to stay at home.  So I guess there will be no trying out the new Home Restaurant in Sunny Hill :(  I guess tonight would be a good time to try one of my new recipes for desserts.  Forget dinner, life is short and I am way better at cooking cakes, brownies, and pretty much any kind of dessert.  One of my favorite recipes is for what I call "Death by Chocolate" which is a thick, small chocolate cake with a layer of dark chocolate frosting :oD

1745 CET:  Reports are coming out about the protest.  At least 20 people are reported to have been treated at the hospital after the crowd waving sticks tried to break through police lines.  Dozens of people are said to have been arrested in the demonstration as hundreds of Albanians started hurling rocks and bottles at UN police.  After the planned demonstration broke up due to the police action, smaller groups began to go around and attack vehicles.

1815 CET:  A count of 3000 Albanians has been estimated.  The demonstrators chanted "No negotiation, self-determination" and waved banners with the slogan of the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination in English) group.  The movement has stated that the plan does not meet the demands of the local population which they say deserves outright independence, not the package of statehood that special envoy Ahtisaari has proposed.  The group has stated that "freedom does not come in packages" and is criticizing Albanian politicians for participating in the next round of talks with Belgrade.

1900 CET:  USA Today reports that 70 people required medical assistance, most from being exposed to tear gas, although four persons are reported to be seriously injured.  The KPS spokesperson says that 15 people were arrested during the demonstration and eight officers were injured.  We still are under restricted movement and I can hear helicopters flying around since this afternoon.  While I was out with Smokey a little bit ago I heard a burst of gunfire.  At least one UN vehicle was turned over and had the windows smashed out following the demonstration when protestors broke into smaller groups and started going through the side streets.

2100 CET:  One of the people arrested in today's demonstration is rumored to be the leader of Vetevendosje, Albin Kurti.  This would not be the first time that Kurti has been arrested following a demonstration or prior to one.  A week or two before Flag Day, the offices of Vetevendosje were raided by police and Kurti was arrested for failing to appear in court to answer charges for a previous demonstration.  Most likely, if Kurti was arrested, he will be released tomorrow.  Breaking the law does not seem to carry the same kind of consequences that one might be accustomed to see in Western countries.