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Albanian PM's historic visit to Serbia postponed after football brawl

20 october 2014, 14:00
0
Prime Minister of Albania Edi. ©Reuters
Prime Minister of Albania Edi. ©Reuters

 A planned historic visit by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama to Serbia has been postponed until next month, both governments said Sunday, after political tensions soared following violence at a football match between the two countries, AFP reports.

Rama and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic said in a joint statement that the violence at the Euro 2016 qualifying match earlier this week was "very unfortunate" and that they had agreed that Rama's visit, planned for Wednesday, would be moved to November 10.

It will be the first time an Albanian premier has travelled to Belgrade in 68 years.

But the visit was thrown into doubt when the October 14 Serbia-Albania match had to be abandoned after a drone carried a pro-Albanian flag over the Belgrade stadium, sparking fighting on and off the pitch.

European football's governing body UEFA has opened a formal probe into both Serbia and Albania over the violence, for which both countries blame each other.

"There are still clear disagreements on how the incidents have occurred but we cannot and will not miss an opportunity to meet and work on maintaining regional stability," the Serbian and Albanian prime ministers said.

"The time has come to turn a new page on the political and economic relations between Serbia and Albania."

   Flag burning 

 The drone incident at the football match, which Serbian leaders labelled a "political provocation", sparked further scenes of unrest in recent days.

Hooligans attacked several ethnic-Albanian owned shops in Serbia, notably in the northern town of Novi Sad. A Molotov cocktail was thrown into one bakery, while several others had their windows broken, local media reported.

On Saturday, tensions soared again when supporters of Serbia's Red Star Belgrade were photographed setting fire to an Albanian flag during a first-division match against Partizan Belgrade.

Albania on Sunday condemned the flag burning incident and urged Serbian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Albania's foreign ministry called on Serbian politicians to "distance themselves from those acts that are... harmful for the future and stability of the Balkans".

Belgrade has accused Rama's brother of controlling the drone at Tuesday's match from his seat in the stadium's executive box. But Olsi Rama, who later returned to Tirana with the Albanian team to a hero's welcome, has denied the claims.

The Albanian premier's upcoming visit to Belgrade has been made possible by improved ties between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, populated mostly by ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 despite opposition from Belgrade.

Marko Djuric, who heads the Serbian government's office for Kosovo, has condemned the recent troubles and voiced fears of retaliation against ethnic Serbs in the breakaway territory.

"I am very worried for the security of Kosovo Serbs who are already exposed to provocations and pressures and who risk being further threatened after those unfortunate events," he said in a statement.

Relations between Tirana and Belgrade have been sensitive over Kosovo and the ethnic Albanian minority in southern Serbia, which often demands more autonomy.


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