Thousands join 'practice protest' ahead of Kosovo court ruling


Pristina (AFP)

Thousands of supporters of Kosovo's caretaker prime minister staged a "rehearsal" protest with strict social distancing on Thursday ahead of a court ruling that could trigger new elections in the unstable democracy.

The supporters of the left-wing Vetevendosje party braved rain as they stood with masks and gloves in evenly-spaced rows in the centre of Pristina, keeping in line with anti-virus measures.

The activists, who have a reputation for formidable street demonstrations, say they are practising so as to be ready for protests if a Constitutional Court verdict expected on Friday does not go their way.

The dispute centres on whether Kosovo should hold new elections to replace the Vetevendosje-led government that collapsed in a no-confidence vote in March.

Vetevendosje's leader, outgoing Prime Minister Albin Kurti, and his supporters argue a new poll is necessary and constitutional.

Yet their rivals, led by President Hashim Thaci, say the party that came second in the October election, the LDK, should be given a chance to form a new government first.

"We came out here today because we won't let them steal our vote," said Ermira Aliu, a 29-year-old graduate student.

The October election ushered in a historic change of power in Kosovo, putting Kurti at the helm and pushing President Thaci's PDK party into the opposition for the first time since the former Serbian province declared independence in 2008.

Kurti and his supporters accuse Kosovo's "old guard" of corrupting institutions in the young democracy while allowing much of the public to languish in poverty.

But his fragile government lasted less than two months before a key power-sharing partner quit the coalition, in part because of disagreements over how to approach talks with Serbia, with whom relations remain tense.

The political crisis has paraylsed Kosovo for months, adding another obstacle to the long-running talks with Serbia.

"All we want is elections," said Ramize Gashi, a 62-year-old woman at the demonstration.

"My children are all university graduates with no jobs because of the corruption and theft of the previous governments."