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Kosovo police use tear gas to disperse stone-throwing anti-government protesters

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PRISTINA, Kosovo — Police in Kosovo fired volleys of tear gas and used water cannons Tuesday to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters demanding the resignation of a minister in what is one of the worst bouts of violence to hit the country since it became independent in 2008.

The protesters pelted officers with stones, Molotov cocktails and other objects in a series of street clashes that lasted for hours. At least 80 people, including 50 policemen, were injured, and some 150 others were detained, officials said.

Kosovo government officials accused the opposition of trying to foment interethnic tensions and seeking to come to power through use of violence.

PHOTO: Protestors raise their hands as they face police in riot gear during a protest in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. Police in Kosovo fired volleys of tear gas at thousands of anti-government protesters demanding the resignation of a minister who had denied that war crimes were committed against ethnic Albanians during the 1998-99 war with Serbia. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
Protestors raise their hands as they face police in riot gear during a protest in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. Police in Kosovo fired volleys of tear gas at thousands of anti-government protesters demanding the resignation of a minister who had denied that war crimes were committed against ethnic Albanians during the 1998-99 war with Serbia. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

The unrest follows a week of demonstrations throughout Kosovo organized by opposition parties, who are demanding the dismissal of Aleksandar Jablanovic, a Kosovo government minister who is a member of the Serb minority.

Earlier this month, Jablanovic referred to ethnic Albanians who had attacked a bus with Serbs going on a pilgrimage in western Kosovo as "savages." Jablanovic has since apologized and claimed he was misinterpreted by the media. But his comments have especially angered the families of some 1,000 ethnic Albanians still missing from 1998-1999 war with Serbia, who accuse him of denying that Serbia committed war crimes in Kosovo.

Some 10,000 people died after Serbian troops launched a brutal crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians. The violence was halted by NATO's 78-day bombing of Serbia in 1999 that forced Belgrade to give up control of the overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian territory.

Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008 but Serbia has never accepted its independence. Many ethnic Albanians fear Belgrade is gaining a foothold in Kosovo fifteen years after the end of the war.

Albin Kurti, an opposition leader and one of the protest organizers, said they will continue with protests until Jablanovic is dismissed.

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PHOTO: A protesters throw stones at the police in riot gear in Kosovo capital Pristina during a protest on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. Police in Kosovo fired volleys of tear gas and used water cannons Tuesday to disperse thousands of stone-throwing anti-government protesters demanding the resignation of a minister who had denied that war crimes were committed against ethnic Albanians during the 1998-99 war with Serbia. At least 37 people were injured, including 22 policemen, during a series of clashes in city streets between riot police and protesters, officials said. The protesters pelted officers with stones, Molotov cocktails and other objects, in what is one of the worst bouts of violence to hit Kosovo since this former Serbian province declared its independence in 2008. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
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