PRISTINA (Reuters) - More than 50 people were injured in clashes on Thursday when Kosovo authorities deported a group of visiting Serbs who accused police of using live fire on them, leaving one with life-threatening injuries.
The group of some 70 people, mainly youngsters from Serbia, were travelling in two buses heading for Gazimestan, a religious and historic site close to the capital Pristina when police decided to send them back to Serbia as they were "very aggressive, drunk and were provoking both police and citizens".
Kosovo's Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi said the youngsters threw stones and other heavy object at the police just after they were expelled from Kosovo territory.
Serbian health authorities said one Serb sustained life-threatening injuries and five others were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. A total of twenty Serbs sought medical care in the towns of Kursumlija and Prokuplje, just outside Kosovo.
Nine police officers were treated in hospital and a further 23 policemen suffered minor injuries, the interior minister said. Police declined to confirm whether they used live rounds.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but ethnic tensions between the 90 percent Albanian majority and the small Serb minority that refuses to recognize Kosovo state have remained since a 1998-99 war.
Gazimestan is where Serbs mark the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, when mediaeval Tsar Lazar's Orthodox Christian Serbs lost a battle to invading Muslim Ottoman Turks.
Ivica Dacic, Serbia's prime minister-designate, said the incident was damaging for the peace and stability in Kosovo.
"International troops there have an obligation to preserve peace and security ... All future talks (with Kosovo) must be based on the preservation of security," Dacic told reporters in Belgrade.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci, Branislav Krstic and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Robin Pomeroy)