December 15, 2015 / 7:52 PM / 4 years ago

Kosovo hits out at EU for not relaxing visa requirement

Kosovo's Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci speaks to the media prior to a meeting with German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin March 2, 2015. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo accused the European Union on Tuesday of fuelling extremism in the impoverished Balkan country by refusing to relax visa regulations for Kosovars in 2016.

Kosovo remains the only country in the Balkans whose citizens need a visa to travel to most of the EU. The government had told the citizens it expected a favourable decision this month and a possible end to the requirement next year.

“These absurd and deliberate delays not only encourage extremism in the country but also will increase frustration among the citizens of Kosovo,” Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci wrote on his Facebook page.

The citizens of Kosovo’s neighbours - Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, - have travelled without a visa in the Schengen zone since 2010.

The decision came as Kosovo faces its worst political crisis since declaring independence from Serbia in 2008. Opposition parties have been releasing tear gas in parliament every session for the past two months to protest an accord brokered by the EU to help relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

On Monday, the parliament passed the 2016 budget in a side room after the opposition lawmakers released tear gas. Police have arrested 13 opposition MPs for releasing the gas.

Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 1999 when NATO carried out 11 weeks of air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces trying to crush an insurgency.

But the EU remains divided on Kosovo sovereignty, which is not recognised by five of the bloc’s 28 members. And some EU officials are sceptical of offering Kosovo visa-free regime, after some 70,000 Kosovars sought asylum in the EU in just the six moths to March 2015.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci, editing by Larry King

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