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Kosovo students protest for Albanian-language education

Protest October 29, 1997
Web posted at: 2:02 p.m. EST (1902 GMT)

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Several thousand ethnic Albanian students took to the streets Wednesday, accusing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of repression and demanding the restoration of Albanian-language education in the Serbian-dominated Kosovo province.

The protesters, who reports estimated numbered between 3,000 and 15,000, dispersed peacefully after student leaders read aloud a letter calling on the international community to support their demands.

"We call on the international community to seriously examine our claims and to take the necessary measures to satisfy them, failing which our discontent could blow up beyond our control," the letter said.

"We will never renounce our just claims. The Serbian regime which exercises permanent repression must take account of that."

Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, who form about 90 percent of the province's population, set up parallel government and education structures after Milosevic revoked the province's autonomy within Yugoslavia in 1989 and imposed a Serbian-language education system.

Earlier protest

Milosevic accused the Albanians of wanting to secede and join neighboring Albania. Kosovo's underground ethnic Albanian leadership responded by claiming independence from Serbia in 1992.

Western countries have supported the Kosovo Albanian's campaign for autonomy but also warned them that they cannot expect full independence for a territory that historically has belonged to Serbia.

Nevertheless, Washington has linked progress on the Kosovo issue to the full lifting of international sanctions imposed on Yugoslavia for its non-compliance with the Balkan peace accord that ended years of conflict and tore apart the former Yugoslavia.

Wednesday's protests ended peacefully, but police using batons charged a similar protest at the beginning of the month in the provincial capital of Pristina.

Over recent months, Kosovo has seen a series of murders and bombings that the authorities blamed on militant underground movements.

Tension has been rising in Pristina, where 19 ethnic Albanians are on trial on charges of forming a "terrorist association" allegedly fighting for Kosovo's secession.

Correspondent Brent Sadler and Reuters contributed to this report.


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