Arrests Mar Kosovo Serbs’ Orthodox Christmas

Ceremonies to mark Orthodox Christmas at churches and monasteries in Kosovo were shadowed by detentions and protests.Kosovo police arrested nine people in the town of Gracanica on Monday for what they said were “security reasons” amid a visit by a Serbian official.

The director of the Serbian government’s office for Kosovo, Alexander Vulin, was visiting the Gracanica monastery at the time with a local police escort to ensure his safety.

“For security reasons of the person the Kosovo police were escorting, today nine people were sent to the police station,” said police spokesperson Brahim Sadriu.

Kosovo’s government had previously refused to grant permission for an official visit by Serbia’s president, Tomislav Nikolic, to attend an Orthodox Christmas ceremony at the same monastery on Monday.

In a letter to the EU’s Pristina office, Kosovo’s justice minister Hajredin Kuqi said he was “willing to reconsider this decision” if both sides would “commit to a reciprocal arrangement” on official visits.

His ministry explained that the reason for the refusal was that planned visits to Serbia last year by Kosovo’s trade minister Mimoza Kusari and diaspora minister Irahim Makolli were not permitted by Belgrade.

The decision to bar Nikolic sparked an angry reaction from Belgrade.

“I will not have Pristina deciding whether I can go to our Kosovo,” the Serbian prime minister told media in Belgrade.

Police also moved in on Sunday to break up a protest at an Orthodox church in the town of Gjakova against a ceremony in which some 50 Serbs took part.

The protest was staged by members of the Self-Determination (Lëvizja Vetëvendosje) movement and a campaign group called The Cries of Mothers (Thirrjet e nënave), who were demanding that authorities do more to address the issue of missing persons.

The demonstrators held up pictures of some of those who have been missing since the end of the war in Kosovo, whose number is estimated at more than 1,700.

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