Thousands of protesters gathered in the Kosovo capital Pristina on Saturday calling for France’s release of Ramush Haradinaj, a former rebel leader accused of war crimes by Serbia.
Haradinaj, an ex-prime minister of Kosovo, has slammed his January arrest in France over alleged atrocities committed during Kosovo’s 1998-99 war for independence as an “abuse of the law”.
“We call on France’s justice system to disregard Serbia’s false accusations,” Muje Rugova, a prominent university professor, told the crowd in Pristina.
The rally’s organisers also played a video message from Haradinaj, who thanked the crowd “with all his heart” while standing in front of an Albanian flag.
The 48-year-old, detained on the basis of a Serbian arrest warrant, was released on bail by a French court but must remain in France pending a ruling on an extradition request from Belgrade.
On Thursday, the French authorities asked Serbia for additional information to support its extradition request, and they will review his case again on April 6.
Haradinaj, an ex-commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army, has already been tried and acquitted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) after allegations of crimes stemming from 1998.
But Serbia is pursuing separate charges of violence against Serbian civilians in Kosovo in June 1999.
Haradinaj, a lawmaker and opponent of Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, is considered a war hero by many Kosovars.
Also at the demonstration Saturday, Pristina’s mayor, Shpend Ahmeti, called on the national government to spurn an agreement reached with Montenegro on new border lines.
Montenegro is seeking official ownership of thousands of hectares in the Rugova mountains that have traditionally been used as pastureland by Kosovar shepherds.
The mayor was responding to comments earlier Saturday by Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who told Kosovo “it is time to ratify” the border accord, the final condition for obtaining visa-free travel in the European Union.
“We are ready, but it’s up to this country’s Parliament to take the necessary steps,” Mogherini said.