Kosovo opposition presents petition with 200,000 names against Serbia deals

Kosovo's parliament has been paralyzed by tear gas on several occasions by MPs who oppose EU-brokered agreements with Serbia, as can be seen in this picture taken in the parliamentary chamber in Pristina on October 23, 2015 (AFP Photo/Driton Vitia)

Pristina (AFP) - Kosovo's opposition presented a petition to the president Monday with more than 200,000 signatures against EU-brokered agreements with Serbia, which are at the centre of a deepening political crisis.

Opposition MPs and their supporters have paralysed the work of Kosovo's parliament for weeks, protesting in particular against plans to grant more autonomy to the ethnic Serb minority in predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo.

Tear gas has been released in parliament several times by angry MPs and riots have ensued on the streets of the capital, in scenes denounced by the government and foreign observers.

The protesters say the agreement to set up an association of Serb-run municipalities would deepen Kosovo's ethnic divide and increase the influence of Serbia, the country from which Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

Serbia does not recognise former province Kosovo's sovereignty, and dialogue brokered by the European Union is designed to improve relations between the two sides which fought a war in 1998 and 1999.

"We are determined to thwart the agreements with any democratic tool. No one has the right to ignore the will of the people," opposition MP Pal Lekaj said after presenting the petition to President Atifete Jahjaga.

The petition also rejects a border agreement with neighbouring Montenegro, which the opposition says has led to a loss of territory.

Jahjaga's office confirmed she had received the petition, calling for "political dialogue to overcome the situation created in the country".

It did not comment on the president's next steps, but Kosovo's constitution obliges the authorities to consider initiatives that are supported by ten of thousands of citizens.

Earlier this month Kosovo's constitutional court suspended the implementation of the controversial association of Serb-run municipalities pending further review.

The move came a day after the UN cultural body UNESCO rejected Kosovo as a member, in a vote hailed as a victory by Belgrade.