Kosovo police use pepper spray to disperse protesting war veterans

Kosovo police used pepper spray on Monday to disperse about 2 000 war veterans who tried to enter parliament to protest against a draft law on a minimum public sector wages that excludes them.

The International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions have warned that financially strapped Kosovo, riven by poverty and corruption, cannot afford to extend higher benefits to nearly 50 000 registered war veterans.

Lawmakers were scheduled on Monday to debate a law to raise the minimum public sector wage but support paid to war veterans was not included.

Facing criticism by the opposition and quarrels within the ruling party, the lawmakers failed to pass the law as there was not a quorum to proceed.

The government has proposed to increase the minimum salary to 250 euros (R4 115.18) from the current 170 euros (R2 798.39), which is one of the lowest in Europe.

Around 10 a.m. (0800 GMT) veterans began gathering in front of parliament and police fired pepper spray when they tried to push their way into the building.

Police said two of its officers were injured during the violence.

Protesters waved flags of the former guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army, which waged a 1998-99 campaign against Serbian rule. Kosovo won independence in 2008.

“If the government does not change the law we will protest again, they will be more massive and more violent,” said war veteran Nexhat Veseli.

KLA veterans say Kosovo authorities have failed to accord them benefits and respect commensurate with their key role in achieving statehood for the small Balkan nation.

The protest was over after few hours, when war veterans heard the news that the parliament had failed to pass the new law.

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