Kosovo denies Serb president Orthodox Christmas visit

PRISTINA Sat Jan 5, 2013 3:07pm GMT

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PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo said on Saturday it had rejected a request from Serbia's president to visit his ethnic kin to mark Orthodox Christmas, saying the ban was in response to Belgrade's refusal to let Kosovo officials visit Serbia.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic had asked to attend an Orthodox Christmas mass on Monday at Gracanica monastery in a Serb enclave just a few kilometres from the capital Pristina.

"We will use reciprocity measures, if our officials are not allowed to go to Serbia certainly we will apply the same measures," Kosovo Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi said at a news conference on Saturday.

Serbia and its former Kosovo province fought a war in 1998-99, which ended when NATO intervened with 78 days of air strikes to drive out Serb forces. Kosovo, whose population is mostly Muslim ethnic Albanian, declared independence in 2008, which Serbia does not recognise.

While several Serb ministers have been denied entry to Kosovo, some top officials - including former president Boris Tadic - have been allowed to attend religious festivals in the past.

But a senior government official said the most recent rejection came after four Kosovo government ministers were denied entry to Serbia during 2012.

Last Christmas, Kosovo Albanian protesters hurled stones at a motorcade carrying former president Tadic when he visited a monastery in western Kosovo.

Nikolic, a former head of the ruling nationalist Serbian Progressive Party, has accused European Union authorities in Kosovo of bias by letting Kosovo authorities to decide whether the Serb leader could visit Kosovo.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade, editing by Rosalind Russell)

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