Kosovo government ousted over coronavirus policy dispute

Kosovo lawmakers dismissed the government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti in a no-confidence vote on Wednesday, triggering a political crisis as the Balkan country is trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus, news wires reported.

With 82 votes against it in the 120-seat parliament, the Cabinet did not survive the vote initiated by coalition partner the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), less than two months since the government took power. It remains unclear how the government will continue its work as the country cannot hold snap elections because of the spread of the respiratory disease.

The government was dismissed after a dispute over whether to declare a state of emergency to combat the coronavirus when the LDK filed a motion for a no-confidence vote after Kurti sacked LDK member Agim Veliu as interior minister. Veliu had supported calls by Kosovo's president for a state of emergency to be declared to combat the coronavirus. Kurti said such a drastic move was not justified. Kosovo has reported 71 coronavirus cases. One person died after contracting the respiratory disease.

The removal of the interior minister followed other disagreements, notably on whether a tariff of 100% on goods produced in Balkan rival Serbia should be abolished. Kosovo introduced the tariff in November 2018, saying it would be abolished once Serbia recognised Kosovo.The move halted dialogue on normalising relations between Belgrade and Pristina and angered the European Union and the United States, which backed Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 following the wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia. Kurti decided to partially remove the tariffs, prompting the United States to halt $50 million in aid.

Kurti said the reason behind his government's dismissal was to remove an obstacle to allowing Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, to swap territories as part of the final deal between Pristina and Belgrade. In 2018, Thaci and Vucic signaled that they might agree to a land swap to resolve territorial claims the two countries have against each other, but both faced strong opposition to the idea domestically and abroad. “The reason to dismiss my government is to allow the signing of an already reached deal to swap territories between Kosovo and Serbia,” Kurti told MPs before the vote.

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