The legislature of Yugoslavia’s tense Kosovo province Thursday approved constitutional changes that curb self-rule, and thousands of ethnic Albanians battled with police in two provincial cities to protest the action, the official Tanjug news agency reported.
The constitutional amendments approved Thursday by an overwhelming majority in the provincial legislature give Serbia, Yugoslavia’s largest republic, control of Kosovo’s police, courts and civil defense and and a free hand to alter Kosovo’s status again.
Of 188 deputies at the session, only 10 voted against the changes and two abstained, Tanjug said.
About 80% of the legislators are ethnic Albanians, and it appears that they voted for the changes in response to pressure from the national government.
The 1.7 million ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo, which borders Albania, fears a loss of cultural, political and educational rights. Serbia denies this will happen. The amendments sparked a general strike last month.
Most of Serbia’s people are Christian and Slavic, and most people in Kosovo are Muslim and ethnic Albanian.
Serbian Communist Party leader Slobodan Milosevic insisted on the changes to crack down on alleged Albanian separatists, accused of persecuting Kosovo’s 200,000 Serbian minority.
The assemblies of Serbia and its other autonomous province, Vojvodina, have already approved the changes. Serbia plans to proclaim them as law on March 28.
In the unrest, police charged into a crowd of about 1,000 ethnic Albania students on the university campus in the Kosovo capital, Pristina, their batons crunching audibly on the rioters’ heads, Croatian Television reported.
Tanjug news agency said police moved against the students after they tried to march to the Pristina town center in defiance of a ban on public protests. Students returned to the campus, Tanjug said.
In Urosevac, 12 miles away, 5,000 ethnic Albanians massed on the streets, hurling rocks at police and shouting “Kosovo Republic!” Tanjug reported. Police sealed the city and army movements were reported in the area.
“We will lay down our lives!” Urosevac youths shouted with their hands raised in a victory sign. “We won’t lay down Kosovo. We want equality.”
Yugoslavia’s federal presidency last month imposed a partial state of emergency in the province by banning all public gatherings and issuing “compulsory work orders.”
Earlier in the day, protesters in Urosevac, 150 miles south of Belgrade, shouted support for the policies of the late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, who granted Kosovo sweeping autonomy in 1974, witnesses said.
“Leave the constitution alone!” protesters shouted. “Long live Tito and the party!”
Riot police also prevented ethnic Albanian women from Urosevac from marching on Pristina.