11 Feb 2007 11:17:14 GMT
PRISTINA, Serbia, Feb 11 - Two people died overnight of injuries sustained in clashes in Kosovo on Saturday between police and ethnic Albanian protesters, U.N. police said.
They were among four people seriously wounded when United Nations and Kosovo police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of Albanians protesting a U.N. plan they say falls short of full independence for the Serbian province.
Police opened fire when protesters tried to break through a barricade around parliament in the capital Pristina.
"It is totally regrettable that two lives were lost as a result of wanton breach of security at the government buildings," the head of U.N. police in Kosovo, Stephen Curtis, said in a statement on Sunday.
"The demonstrators at the government buildings compelled the police to take defensive measures to restore order," he said.
The violence on Saturday underscored Western fears of mass unrest if a decision on the Albanian majority's demand for independence does not come soon. Fifteen people were arrested.
A U.N. plan unveiled this month would, if adopted by the U.N. Security Council, set the territory on the path to statehood, eight years after NATO bombs drove out Serb forces and the United Nations took control.
But some among Kosovo's 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority are angry at the plan's provisions for a powerful European overseer and self-government for the 100,000 remaining Serbs.
The protesters called for an independence referendum and rejected talks with Serbia, which in 1998-99 killed 10,000 Albanians and expelled 800,000 in a two-year war with rebels.
Serbia opposes the amputation of its medieval heartland, but the Albanians living there reject any return to Serb rule and are impatient to end eight years of U.N.-imposed limbo.
Ahtisaari has invited Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians to a final round of talks in Vienna from Feb. 21. He hopes to present the plan to the U.N. Security Council in late March.