Thousands in Belgrade protest against Western-backed Serbia-Kosovo deal

Protesters shout slogans and hold signs during a demonstration against a Western-backed deal on normalizing ties between Kosovo and Serbia in Belgrade March 17, 2023. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Several thousand people gathered in Belgrade to protest against a Western-backed deal to normalise ties between Kosovo and Serbia, which they view as recognition of Kosovo independence.

Serbia's constitution considers Kosovo an integral part of its territory, even though it declared independence in 2008 with U.S. and European Union backing. Bilateral ties need to be mended for Serbia and Kosovo to achieve their strategic goal of joining the EU.

Protesters held Serbian flags and banners reading "Kosovo is not for sale," "Serbia, not European Union," and "No to capitulation."

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is due to meet Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and EU officials on Saturday in Ohrid, North Macedonia, to discuss implementation of the deal on normalising ties both parties agreed to last month.

"I think the deal implies that we recognise Kosovo, which is not acceptable," said Bogdan, a 26-year old student protestor who declined to give his last name, in an interview.

Protesters in front of Saint Sava Church in Belgrade walked to the presidency building.

"This is just the start of the protest," said Milos Jovanovic, leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia, which was one of the protest organisers.

"It (the deal) is definitely a recognition (of Kosovo), whether you say it explicitly or whether it is implied indirectly it is still recognition and it is not acceptable."

In 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombed Serbia in response to the expulsion of majority Albanians by Serb forces in Kosovo.

(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Richard Chang)

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