Clashes in Kosovo's Mitrovica over bridge blockade

The bridge in Mitrovica has often been the focus of ethnic clashes

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Demonstrators in Kosovo have clashed with police at a bridge between the local Albanian and Serb communities in the northern city of Mitrovica.

Police used tear gas against hundreds of ethnic Albanian protesters, who threw rocks and set police cars alight. Some officers and civilians were hurt.

The riot came after local minority Serbs rebuilt a barricade at the key bridge straddling the River Ibar.

Ties between Kosovo's Serb and Albanian residents have been strained for years.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008. Serbia rejects Kosovo's independence, although the two sides normalised relations in 2013.

Many ethnic Serbs in Kosovo are reluctant to integrate with the Albanian communities.

'Symbol of rejection'

Local Serbs had blockaded the north side of the Mitrovica bridge for the past three years.

The rubble was removed last week. However, it was quickly blocked again with flower pots and earth - described by some Serb residents as a "peace park".

A man with a bicycle walks near a burning police vehicle set on fire by Kosovo Albanian demonstrators during a protest in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, 22 June 2014 Police said at least six cars were set alight and many more were damaged
A Kosovo Albanian man, holding an Albanian flag, walks near tear gas fired by riot-police during clashes in Mitrovica, Kosovo, 22 June 2014 A Kosovo Albanian man held an Albanian flag during the clashes
Kosovo police in riot gear deploy to disperse a crowd of hundreds of stone-throwing protestors who demanded removal of a blockade of flower pots on a bridge linking ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica on 22 June 2014 Riot police used tear gas to stop protesters from crossing the bridge.

The long-standing blockade was a symbol of the Serb community's rejection of Kosovo's self-declared independence - and the authority of the government in Pristina, the BBC's Balkans correspondent Guy Delauney reports.

Kosovo police spokesman Avni Zahiti said 13 policemen and 10 civilians were injured.

"Kosovo police did not use any force apart from the tear gas," he said, adding: "Six vehicles were burned, and many other vehicles were damaged."

Nato peacekeepers were also called to support the anti-riot police.

In 1998, Serbia responded to separatist pressure from Kosovo by launching a crackdown on the territory's Albanian population, which was brought to an end by Nato military intervention in 1999.

Kosovo was administered by the UN until 2008, when it declared independence.

About 90% of Kosovo's population are ethnic Albanians, with about 100,000 Serb residents.

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