PRISTINA — Unable to take to the streets amid a coronavirus lockdown, angry residents of Pristina on March 19 banged pots and pans from their balconies to protest the country’s latest political crisis that may bring down Kosovo’s government.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s shaky coalition government, which took four months to assemble after October 2019 elections, is on the verge of collapse because it cannot agree on measures to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
Isa Mustafa, the leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), on March 18 said a no-confidence motion will be filed following the firing the same day of Interior Minister Agim Veliu, purportedly for spreading “panic” about coronavirus after he backed a presidential call for a state of emergency over the pandemic.
Mustafa said Veliu’s firing was also related to differences between the coalition partners over whether a 100-percent tariff on Serbian goods should be lifted.
A civic organization, the Replike, called for the unusual pot-banging protest in the capital, warning that the wrangling “will have a negative impact on the country’s ability to deal with the virus and will greatly affect the trust…in institutions.”
President Hashim Thaci on March 17 signed a decree on declaring a state of emergency, while Kurti opposed such a move, saying it would cause “unnecessary panic.”
Kurti fired Veliu on March 18, just hours after Veliu said he supported the call, accusing him of spreading “panic.”
Veliu is from the LDK, which is in the fragile coalition with Kurti’s Self-Determination party.
LDK leader Mustafa gave Kurti until March 21 to “annul the decision to dismiss Veliu and take a decision to abolish the tariffs” on Serbian imports.
The LDK would need approval from a majority of deputies in the 120-member parliament, where Kurti has only 29 seats, to bring down the government.
Pristina is under huge pressure from the European Union and the United States to revoke the 100-percent import tariff it imposed against Serbia in November 2018.
The tariff came in response to Belgrade’s diplomatic campaign to encourage some of the 110-plus countries that have recognized Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008 to reverse their position.
Since taking power, Kurti has resisted removing the tariff and instead has suggested a partial lifting — something rejected by Thaci as well as the United States, Kosovo’s most important ally.
Richard Grenell, the U.S. special envoy to Kosovo and Serbia, said in a tweet on February 27, that the partial lifting was not enough, calling it a “half measure.”
The LDK had said it would quit the government if the tariff was not “revoked unconditionally.”
Kosovo has confirmed 20 coronavirus cases since the first infected person was discovered on March 13. No deaths have been reported.
Most of those infected came from Italy or are related to someone who returned from the EU member state.
Kosovo has closed all schools, borders, flights, bars, and restaurants to curb the spread of the virus. Only supermarkets and pharmacies remain open.