Focus on Serbs in key Kosovo vote

Polls are set to open in Kosovo’s municipal elections, with ethnic Serb communities encouraged to vote for the first time.

The governments of both Serbia and Kosovo have been promoting a strong turnout, but many people in the north are likely to boycott the vote.

Kosovar Serbs are concerned that if they vote, it will legitimise the independent state of Kosovo.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

The move had the support of Kosovo’s majority Albanian population, but not the small Serbian minority, which refuses to recognise the country’s independence.

For the first time, the government in Belgrade is putting pressure on Kosovo’s Serb population to take part in the municipal elections.

The change is down to a new agreement between Serbia and Kosovo to normalise relations, as Serbia seeks membership of the European Union.

Boycott banners

Polling stations open at 06:00 GMT and close at 18:00 GMT.

The BBC’s Guy De Launey, in the divided Kosovo city of Mitrovica, says the government in Belgrade has considerable influence over ethnic Serbs in north Kosovo, many of whom work in Serbian public sector jobs.

“People are certainly afraid for their livelihoods… but that may not be enough to persuade them to turn out in elections called by a state they don’t recognise,” said Danijela Vujicic, one of the candidates supported by Serbia in North Mitrovica.

Our correspondent says that in Serb-dominated North Mitrovica, the banners and posters for the campaign to boycott the election outnumber those for the candidates.

He adds that although municipal elections usually have a low turnout, the governments in Pristina and Belgrade will be hoping for ethnic Serbs to vote in reasonable numbers.

Calls for independence from ethnic Albanians in Kosovo after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia led Serbia to stage a violent crackdown in the territory, which was bought to an end by a Nato military intervention in 1999.

Until it declared independence in 2008, Kosovo was administered by the United Nations.