Row over sacking of minister leads to coalition partner pulling out

The White House has been pushing for a deal between Belgrade and Pristina to be inked this year, in what would be seen as a triumph of diplomacy for Trump. While Thaçi has been amenable to US moves, Kurti was more sceptical, worried that a deal would involve making too many concessions to Serbia.

The European Union has also been pursuing negotiations towards a deal that would eventually allow accession for both countries, but has been moving on a slower timetable and is more wary of any deal that would involve a territorial exchange.

These tensions came to the surface ahead of the no-confidence vote, as European capitals reacted with horror to the vote of no confidence even as the US ambassador was egging it on.

The French and German ambassadors sent a terse note to the LDK on Tuesday asking it “to reconsider the no-confidence vote and maintain trusted and stable government to face challenges”. However, hours later, the US ambassador, Philip Kosnett, wrote on Twitter that he was “pleased” the vote would take place.

“We’ve never had a transatlantic split or the west speaking in different voices,” said Agon Maliqi, a political analyst.

The timing is particularly unfortunate. The battle against coronavirus in the country has already been hampered by tussles between the president and prime minister, resulting in confusing mixed messages being transmitted to the population. On Monday evening, Kurti’s government announced a double curfew, giving people just two four-hour windows during which they would be allowed to leave their homes each day.

Thaçi, however, criticised the rules as unconstitutional and called on people to ignore them. “Citizens are not obliged to respect this decision. Neither the police nor the security authorities should enforce this decision of the government,” he said.

The next steps are unclear: Kosovo’s constitution calls for elections within 45 days, which would seem to be impossible during a pandemic. The other option is for the president to invite the leader of the biggest party to govern, which is Kurti.

In a message posted on Facebook on Thursday lunchtime, Kurti vowed his government would continue in a caretaker role and slammed Thaçi and Richard Grenell, the US ambassador to Germany who has been the point man for White House attempts to strike a Kosovo-Serbia deal.

He said the vote had proceeded after a “signal” from Grenell, and showed that “there are over 80 MPs in Kosovo ready to risk the lives of citizens only to back a presidential [land] exchange.”

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