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Kosovo Serbs protest against Belgrade-Pristina deal


Around 10,000 Serbs in northern Kosovo and thousands more in Belgrade protested Monday against an EU-sponsored deal to normalise ties between Serbia and breakaway Kosovo.

"Kosovo is the heart of Serbia" and "No to Pristina, no to the Brussels accord," said slogans on placards carried by the protestors who waved Serbian flags as they gathered in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica.

The protestors demanded that the deal be annulled and called Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and other officials who had initialled it "traitors".

"We will not accept the implementation of the accord," said Slavisa Ristic, a local Kosovo Serb leader.

The hour-long rally ended without incident, with the protestors calling for a referendum to be held in Serbia proper for the "people to decide whether to accept the deal."

In the Serbian capital Belgrade, more than 2,000 people also protested against the deal, marching along the city's central streets.

They also demanded that the deal be annulled and called for the resignation of top Serbian officials.

"We will always support our brothers in Kosovo," said one of the protestors, who had responded to the call of several minor hardline opposition parties.

The influential Serbian Orthodox Church also condemned the deal, saying it represented "Serbia's surrender."

The church appealed to Kosovo Serbs "not to recognise any forced and unjust orders but to consider Kosovo, always and forever, as its homeland."

Some 120,000 ethnic Serbs live in mostly ethnic Albanian populated Kosovo. Around 40,000 of these live in the north on the border with Serbia and the rest in enclaves dotted around the territory.

Like Belgrade, Serbs in northern Kosovo never accepted Pristina's 2008 declaration of independence. They consider the breakaway territory as the cradle of the Serb nation and religion.

The 15-point EU-sponsored accord spells out the basic principles that would give a level of autonomy to some 40,000 ethnic Serbs living in the north Kosovo.

The text of the accord has yet to be made public by the EU.

But local media said it will give the Kosovo Serbs their own police and justice representatives, working under Pristina's authority, in the areas where they make up a majority of the population.