Kosovo police fire tear gas in protests against Serb minister

Pristina (AFP) - Police in Kosovo fired tear gas to disperse groups of stone-throwing protesters Saturday as thousands took to the streets of Pristina to demand the dismissal of a Serb minister accused of insulting the ethnic Albanian majority.

The clashes erupted at the end of a rally in the capital at which some 7,000 people, according to police, called on the government to fire Labour and Social Welfare Minister Aleksandar Jablanovic, one of three Serb ministers in Prime Minister Isa Mustafa's cabinet.

Around a hundred demonstrators threw stones, smashing several windows of the government building and of nearby cafes and restaurants, before dispersing, an AFP correspondent saw. Three policemen were injured in the unrest, police said.

Jablanovic sparked outrage two weeks ago when he called a group of ethnic Albanians "savages" for trying to prevent Serb pilgrims from visiting a monastery in western Kosovo on Orthodox Christmas. The group had claimed "war criminals" were among the pilgrims.

The minister later publicly apologised for his comments but angry crowds have continued to rally against him across the breakaway territory.

Serbia and its former province fought a war in 1998-1999 which ended when a NATO air campaign ousted Belgrade-controlled troops from Kosovo.

Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008.

Some 120,000 Serbs now live in Kosovo, where 90 percent of its 1.8 million people are ethnic Albanians.

Premier Mustafa included three Serb ministers in his 21-member cabinet in a bid to improve relations with Kosovo's largest minority group as well as with Serbia, which does not recognise the territory's independence.