Prishtina, Kosovo | Aug 23 (RFERL) – Hundreds of people have protested on the streets of Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, to demand the resignation of the chief prosecutor over claims he was hindering the fight against corruption.
Despite the protests, prosecutor Aleksander Lumezi vowed on August 22 to stay in his job and said that he would “never accept pressure from political entities and civil society that interfere in the work of the prosecution.”
“If Kosovo institutions and the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council assess that I have violated the law, I will accept any decision they take,” Lumezi added.
The rally, supported by the opposition Vetevendosje party, comes after the August 15 resignation of special prosecutor Elez Blakaj, who said he “had been under pressure” from Lumezi after he had summonsed senior political figures in Kosovo to testify in the so-called “war veterans list” case.
Blakaj said that, after an investigation that began in 2016, his team discovered that 19,000 people illegally obtained the status of a veteran of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in order to receive monthly benefits.
Critics, including veterans groups, allege the list has been heavily inflated through the use of false testimonies and fictitious documents.
Under Kosovo law, persons verified to have been KLA veterans who fought in the 1998-99 war with Serbian forces are entitled to a monthly payment.
Lumezi said that after Blakaj’s resignation another prosecutor had been assigned to handle the war veterans case, although he did not disclose the name of that person.
During the protest in Pristina, demonstrators assailed Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who called Blakaj a “thief” and denied that he had faced threats during his work.
Haradinaj said on August 22 that, while he opposed including anyone on the veterans list who did not qualify, “I am also against a thief…because he is a thief…and you know why he is a thief — because we have given him all the conditions to do his job. It is not true he was threatened.”
Kosovo, which has applied to become a member of the European Union, must demonstrate a track record of convictions in high-level organized crime and corruption cases to obtain membership as well as visa-free travel in the bloc, EU officials have said.
Last year, Kosovo was ranked 85th out of 180 countries in the corruption perceptions index of Transparency International.
Source: RFE/RL’s Balkan Service