By Fatos Bytyci
PRISTINA (Reuters) - Opposition lawmakers in Kosovo fired tear gas and pepper spray in parliament on Tuesday and police clashed with rock-throwing protesters in a deepening political crisis over relations with former master Serbia.
Protesters threw rocks, bottles and petrol bombs at police and parliament in the capital, Pristina, rallying in support of opposition lawmakers who for a fourth time disrupted the work of the assembly with tear gas and, on this occasion, pepper spray.
The opposition is demanding the government scrap a European Union-brokered deal to regulate ties between Serbia and Kosovo, its former southern province, which declared independence in 2008.
In particular, they oppose the creation of a so-called "association" of municipalities populated by minority ethnic Serbs, which would have greater local powers and the right to some financial links with Belgrade.
Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 1999, when NATO bombed for 11 weeks to stop the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces trying to crush a guerrilla insurgency.
The territory of 1.8 million people declared independence in 2008 and has been recognized by more than 100 countries, including the major Western powers.
But the EU wants the two to regulate their relations as Balkan neighbors if either are to make progress towards eventual membership of the bloc.
Tuesday's protest was led by opposition lawmaker Albin Kurti, who has set off tear gas in parliament several times in recent months. He fired pepper spray at police.
"I pointed the pepper spray at the prime minister and the government because they created the 'association'," Kurti told Reuters in the assembly. "The police just happened to be in the wrong place."
Lawmakers, who were due to debate the government's proposed budget for next year, left the chamber. They moved to another room in the building and later approved the budget at a first reading.
Prime Minister Isa Mustafa said the opposition's actions were "criminal".
"I ask the institutions to take measures, because the state is in question," he told reporters.
(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Janet Lawrence)