Lawmakers in Yugoslavia's autonomous Kosovo province Thursday adopted constitutional changes that relinquished local control of the police and courts, setting off demonstrations by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
Police armed with tear gas and truncheons moved in to quell demonstrations in two Kosovo cities, sparking clashes that left several protesters and police officers wounded, Belgrade news media said.Yugoslavian television reported scores of protesters were arrested and showed footage of police beating demonstrators with clubs as they were being herded onto buses.
The demonstrations were triggered by constitutional changes adopted earlier in the day by the three-house provincial parliament. The measures relinquishing some of Kosovo's autonomy to Serbia, one of six Yugoslav republics, appeared aimed at defusing nationalistic tensions in Kosovo, where 1.8 million ethnic Albanians outnumber 200,000 Serbs and Montenegrins.
The amendments returning to Serbia the control of police, courts, national defense and foreign affairs were adopted by a majority vote of 188-10 with two abstentions, Yugoslav news media reported from Pristina, 190 miles south of Belgrade.
The Kosovo Parliament's president, Vukasin Jokanovic, told lawmakers, "The amendments do not deprive any nation of their rights."
But in the Kosovo town of Urosevac, about 20 miles south of Pristina, thousands of ethnic Albanians responded by pouring into the streets to protest the constitutional changes, news reports said.
The protesters, who said they fear the changes will jeopardize their cultural identity, chanted, "We do not give up the constitution" and hurled stones at riot police who forced them to break up into small groups in different areas.
Late in the evening, riot police used tear gas and truncheons to disperse a crowd of about 4,000 protesters, Belgrade television reported.