Serb women in Kosovo protest against 'ghettoisation'

Hundreds of Serbian women demonstrated in northern Kosovo on Wednesday, in protest against ethnic-Albanian authorities who they accused of seeking to "ghettoise" the Serb minority.

The protest in the north of Mitrovica -- long a flashpoint between Serbs and ethnic Albanians -- took place as Serbian and Kosovar officials try to find a solution to a row over number plates.

The dispute erupted after Kosovo said the country's ethnic Serbs would be fined if they did not swap vehicle licence plates issued by Serbia for registration numbers issued by Pristina.

The underlying source of tension is Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia. The latter does not recognise the move and has encouraged Kosovo's Serb minority to remain loyal to Belgrade.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Tuesday said he was delaying the plan to issue fines over number plates for two days.

The delay helped calm tensions in northern Kosovo, a day after EU-mediated negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina over the potentially explosive scheme failed to produce results.

"I am happy to work with the US and the EU to find a solution during the next two days," Kurti tweeted.

The dispute has sounded alarm bells in the European Union, which has been seeking to normalise ties between Serbia and Kosovo and wants both to refrain from provocative gestures.

But the protesters in the city of Mitrovica accused Albin Kurti of "terror" and "inhuman treatment" as they marched through the streets of the northern city.

Some held up placards that read "women united to liberate the ghetto" and "this is not a whim, I want peace".

"Our goal is to provide peace, freedom and a peaceful childhood for our children," Gordana Savic, head nurse at Mitrovica Hospital, said as she addressed the other protesters.

The dispute over vehicle licence plates has also provoked the ire of Kosovo Serbs in official positions.

Hundreds of police officers, judges, prosecutors and other civil servants have left their posts, causing a breakdown in the rule of law and raising fears of heightened tensions.

Mitrovica has remained ethnically divided between the Serb-majority north and the Albanian-majority south since the 1998-1999 war between Serbian forces and Albanian rebels.

Kosovo's Serb minority, which totals about 120,000, refuses to offer its loyalty to Pristina, in line with Belgrade's wishes.