Explosion in Kosovo capital kills two people

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Pristina, Serbia, Sep 24: An explosion killed two people and injured 11 when it tore through shops early today in the capital of Serbia's breakaway Kosovo province.

The explosion scattered glass and debris from a dozen shops on Pristina's Bill Clinton Boulevard. Part of a building collapsed.

''Two people have now died,'' said police spokesman Veton Elshani. He said another 11 were being treated in hospital.

The blast, the cause of which was not known, comes at a time of rising tension within Kosovo's 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority over its stalled bid for independence from Serbia.

The territory has been run by the United Nations and patrolled by NATO since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serbian forces to halt atrocities against ethnic Albanians in a two-year war between Belgrade's troops and separatist guerrillas.

Leaders of Serbia and Kosovo are due to hold direct negotiations on the territory's fate on Friday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Pristina has seen small bomb attacks, rarely fatal, at times of political tension over the past three years as ethnic Albanian pressure for an end to their limbo status grows. Mafia feuds are also common.

The West backs independence, but Serbia's ally Russia has blocked a plan for Kosovo's statehood at the UN Security Council, forcing more negotiations.

The talks began last month under the mediation of a trio of envoys from the United States, Russia and the European Union, trying to bridge the chasm between Kosovo's demand for independence and Serbia's offer of broad autonomy.

They have to report back to the United Nations by December 10, when Washington says a decision on Kosovo's fate must be taken.

Moscow rejects any deadline for a settlement, saying talks should continue until the two sides reach agreement. But the West fears Albanian frustration could turn to violence.

Leaders of Kosovo's 2 million ethnic Albanians have threatened to declare independence with or without a UN resolution after the talks end. The 27-member EU is split on whether to recognise Kosovo without UN blessing.

Reuters>

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