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Voters In Kosovo Head To The Polls In Municipal Elections Amid Pandemic, Ethnic Tensions.

More than 1.8 million voters in Kosovo are eligible to vote on October 17 in municipal elections that will be the first test for Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

Kurti’s Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) movement scored a landslide victory in early parliamentary elections in February. But the local elections on October 17 will take place amid efforts to vaccinate the population against the coronavirus and after a series of incidents in northern Kosovo, which is mostly populated by Serbs.

Voters will choose 27 mayors and more than 800 local officials representing municipalities in Kosovo.

The elections are taking place after a spike in COVID-19 infections in recent weeks that prompted the Public Health Institute to recommend a postponement of the vote.

President Vjosa Osmani said earlier this week that the leaders of Kosovo’s political parties could not agree on a postponement, so the elections will go ahead.

“Despite the recommendation, the prevailing opinion was that the election process should not be postponed," she said. "I respect the right of the parties.”

In the recent incidents in northern Kosovo, ethnic Serb villagers blocked roads and clashed with police after authorities conducted sweeps aimed at cracking down on cross-border smuggling.

The October 13 violence injured at least 20 people, including police officers, and renewed fears of wider violence and tension between Pristina and Belgrade. It also prompted a new warning from the European Union.

Kurti, who won office pledging greater "reciprocity" in relations between Pristina and Belgrade, promised officials would continue cracking down on smuggling.

The violence came just weeks after the resolution of another dispute between Kosovo and Serbia over license-plate requirements that were imposed by Kosovo.

Ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo balked at the new rules and blockaded parts of the border. At one point, Serbia sent fighter jets and helicopters flying along the border, and Kosovo sent riot police to the region.

EU officials ultimately brokered an agreement and troops from the NATO-led peacekeeping forces in the country, known as KFOR, deployed to the region.

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