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02/19/2016 03:54 pm ET

Tear Gas Released In Parliament By Kosovo Opposition Lawmakers

Three MPs were arrested, said police, who were forced to remove several opposition lawmakers who refused to leave the chamber.

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo opposition lawmakers released tear gas in parliament on Friday, forcing the abandonment of this year's first legislative session as part of a long-running protest against a deal to grant the country's ethnic Serb minority more power.

They have kept up their protests since the government signed an EU-brokered accord with Serbia in August giving the Serb community a greater say over local government decisions and raising the possibility of financing from Belgrade.

The agreement, yet to take effect following a critical judicial review by Kosovo's highest court, has set off the 90 percent ethnic Albanian country's worst political crisis since independence in 2008.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Opposition lawmaker wipes his eyes after releasing a tear gas canister disrupting a parliamentary session in Kosovo capital Pristina on Friday Feb. 19, 2016. Kosovo opposition again has used tear gas inside the Parliament disrupting its session, a repeated use of violent methods over the last five months to convince the government renounces its deals with Serbia and Montenegro. The opposition coalition has given the government an ultimatum until Feb. 27, to resign and call new elections in Kosovo.

In a parallel protest outside the building on Friday, hundreds of opposition supporters demanding snap elections clashed with police. There were no reports of injuries or arrests.

Lawmakers released three gas canisters and, as the chamber filled with smoke, parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli held a gas mask and urged MPs to continue debating, a live TV broadcast showed.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Opposition lawmaker wipes his eyes after releasing a tear gas canister disrupting a parliamentary session in Kosovo capital Pristina on Friday Feb. 19, 2016. 

The session was then postponed, repeating a pattern that has not varied since October, when the tear gas protests and street demonstrations began.

"This regime is now is in its final days, they understood they have no legitimacy and they will not last long," Visar Ymeri, the head of the biggest opposition party Vetevendosje, told reporters outside the debating chamber.

Three MPs were arrested, said police, who were forced to remove several opposition lawmakers who refused to leave the chamber.

Opposition parties, who also reject a border accord with Montenegro that they say gives Kosovoland to its neighbor, have said they will keep organizing protests until the government, elected in December 2014, resigns.

On Wednesday, thousands demonstrated in front of Pristina's main government building.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Kosovo parliament security staff wearing gas mask stand beside opposition lawmakers after they released a tear gas canister disrupting a parliamentary session in Kosovo capital Pristina on Friday Feb. 19, 2016.

The government accuses party leaders of fometing violence and attempting to drag the country into "crime and anarchy."

"This is the continuation of their primitive behavior... but we will continue to work for democracy," Deputy Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said on Friday.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after NATO air strikes drove out Serbian security forces accused of killing and expelling ethnic Albanian civilians during a counter-insurgency war.

Many Kosovo Albanians believe last year's accord with Serbia represents a threat to that hard-won sovereignty, though its status is unclear after the constitutional court ruled in December that parts of it breach the country's basic law.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; editing by Ivana Sekularac and John Stonestreet)

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