Chanting "Kosovo is Serbia," thousands of the province's minority Serbs gathered in their biggest protest in years Thursday, countering rising separatist sentiment among Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.
Hours before the 30,000-strong Serb rally in the provincial capital, Pristina, 25,000 ethnic Albanians staged their own protest in the city, denouncing what they called "Serb terror and repression in Kosovo."As a deadline for Serbia to ease up on Kosovo Albanians expired Thursday, the German and French foreign ministers arrived in the Serbian capital of Belgrade on a mission that will determine if new sanctions will be imposed on Serbia.
Further dampening prospects for a diplomatic solution of the Kosovo crisis, ethnic Albanians blamed Serb police for another fatal shooting Wednesday.
Relatives of 46-year-old Qerim Muriqi say he apparently died of a chest wound after being shot Wednes-day by Serb police who fired on a crowd at a peaceful demonstration in Pec, 30 miles west of the Kosovo capital, Pristina.
Serbian police denied the assault Thursday, saying the media reports were "erroneous, malicious and biased."
In Pec, up to 3,000 people filed past Muriqi's open coffin draped with a red Albanian flag, flashing the victory sign with their fingers during a wake prior to the funeral.
His 5-year-old son, Ilir, weeping, said, "I want to go with pappy. Don't take him away." Another son, Besarta, 15, repeated "my father, my father" over and over, sobbing uncontrollably.
At the same time, about 3,000 Serbs marched in Pec in a loud but peaceful demonstration. At one point, they stood and watched the Albanian funeral procession go by.
In Pristina, about 25,000 ethnic Albanians held the latest in a series of rallies against what they say is "Serbian terror and repression" in Kosovo.
People sat down in silence till noon, then rang bells and jingled keys to signal that an international deadline had expired and that Serbia should be punished. Dozens of Serb policemen in full riot gear watched the protest but did not intervene.
At a rally two hours after the Albanian protest ended, about 30,000 Serbs staged a counter-protest in downtown Pristina, carrying Serb flags, singing Serb nationalist songs and chanting "Kosovo is Serbia."
After the Albanian protest ended, witnesses reported several brawls between unidentified Serbs and Albanians. At least four reporters working for Western media were beaten and kicked, apparently by plainclothes Serb policemen.
The United States and European countries had set Thursday's deadline for Serbia to withdraw special police from Kosovo and meet other requirements or face toughened international sanctions.
German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, arrived in the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade Thursday for talks with the Balkans' chief power broker, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and other Serbian officials.