Kosovo court finds 4 opposition MPs guilty of using tear gas

PRISTINA, Kosovo — A Kosovo court has found four opposition lawmakers guilty of repeatedly disrupting parliament by using tear gas.

The four members of the left-wing Self-Determination Party — Albin Kurti, Donika Kadaj Bujupi, Albulena Haxhiu and Faton Topalli — were sentenced Wednesday to up to 18 months in prison. They won't be jailed, however, if they do not commit the same crime during a two-year probation period.

The verdict said in four parliamentary sessions the defendants had used "tear gas without authorization" to block lawmakers from working.

The opposition lawmakers since 2015 have used tear gas, blown whistles and thrown water bottles in parliament to protest a proposed border demarcation agreement with Montenegro. They say Kosovo is ceding territory under the agreement, a claim denied by the previous government and by international experts.

The agreement, which is yet to be approved by parliament, is a pre-condition for a visa-free regime for Kosovo citizens in the European Union's Schengen travel zone.

Haxhiu defended their actions, saying "we defended the republic, its sovereignty and integrity."

Political tensions in Kosovo remain high over the border deal, which is to be approved soon. Another issue is the opposition against a special court established to prosecute crimes committed during and after Kosovo's 1998-1999 war with Serbia for independence. It is expected to issue indictments against former independence fighters.

Wednesday's verdict comes at a delicate moment for the Self-Determination Party, the biggest single party in parliament, whose leader resigned recently amid party turmoil.

Next month Kosovo celebrates the 10th anniversary of its independence from Serbia, declared unilaterally in 2008 and recognized by most western nations but not by Serbia.

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