LDK leader Isa Mustafa has announced that his party will propose a motion of no-confidence in the coalition government it is part of, after the COVID-19 response has exposed the political divisions between Kosovo’s leaders.*
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday evening, Mustafa said that he had written to Prime Minister Albin Kurti to drop the 100% tariff on products from Serbia because “the friendship with the U.S. is at risk,” but that he hadn’t received a response.
The move comes after Kurti dismissed the LDK Minister of Internal Affairs and Public Administration Agim Veliu earlier in the day for issuing statements on the COVID-19 pandemic response that were counter to the official government position.
“Today there has been an unexpected and unannounced action by the prime minister — the dismissal of the LDK minister, contrary to the [coalition] agreement,” he said. “We agreed to discuss these issues with the LDK leader, but this has not happened — this is an arbitrary action. This tells us that Mr Kurti does not want to cooperate with us.”
The dismissal of Veliu followed a disagreement between the government and President Hashim Thaçi over whether a State of Emergency should be declared. Veliu gave a public interview in which he appeared to back the president’s position over the prime minister’s.
In a press conference on Tuesday night, following a meeting of the National Security Council, President Hashim Thaçi had proposed that the Assembly declare a State of Emergency due to the spread of COVID-19.
“The State of Emergency involves the mobilization of the Kosovo Security Force in the whole territory of the Republic of Kosovo,” Thaçi said. “The [signed] decree will be proceeded to the Assembly tomorrow [Wednesday].”
However, later on Tuesday night, Deputy Prime Minister Haki Abazi told a separate press conference that the government considers the declaration of a State of Emergency an extreme measure and that Prime Minister Albin Kurti is against the declaration at this time. He added that the government is in control of the COVID-19 situation in Kosovo.
“The situation should be monitored and actions taken when such a state [of emergency] is needed,” Abazi said. “It is not necessary now, and such a decision should not be taken.”
Coalition government rocked
In the midst of the disagreement over the need for a State of Emergency, Kurti announced on Wednesday afternoon that he had dismissed Veliu, a senior LDK figure. The Prime Minister’s Office press release stated that amongst the reasons for dismissing Veliu was that he had publicly stated he was against the prime minister’s decision on the declaration of a State of Emergency.
“In this statement, he also spread panic by saying that ‘the number of those affected is increasing by the hour.’ Neither the Ministry of Health nor the National Institute of Public Health has said the number of people infected with COVID-19 was increasing by the hour,” the press release says.
“Through his public statements, that are not supported by his stances at internal meetings, he has demonstrated a marked lack of leadership and has openly undermined the work of the government that he is a part of.”
LDK’s leader Isa Mustafa initially responded to the news in a Facebook post, saying that “the Prime Minister’s unilateral actions are harmful and unacceptable and lead to a breakdown of the coalition.”
“As leader of LDK I was not consulted by the Prime Minister and do not accept his publicized reasons.”
“By agreement we have determined that ministers may be dismissed by the Prime Minister in consultation with the leader of the [other] coalition political entity, based on a justification accepted by the LDK leader,” he said. “As leader of LDK I was not consulted by the Prime Minister and do not accept his publicized reasons.”
He went on to urge Kurti to annul his decision on Veliu’s dismissal and to abolish the 100% tariff on products from Serbia by the end of the week; the latter has been an ongoing point of contention between LDK and Kurti’s Vetëvendosje party.
Meanwhile, in response to the president’s proposal to declare a State of Emergency, Srpska Lista said in a press release that Prishtina was trying to systematize the KSF in the north of Kosovo with the pretext of protecting citizens, but aiming instead for the “peaceful occupation of Serb municipalities.”
“We call on KFOR’s command to urgently hinder and deny the possibility of deploying Prishtina military units in the north of Kosovo and to act in accordance with an agreement that guarantees that these units cannot be deployed in the four northern municipalities,” says the release.
What is a state of emergency?
After Thaçi’s announcement on Tuesday night that he had signed a decree, on Wednesday morning he told a press conference that the process of the decree was being finalized and the details would be public soon. He said that the State of Emergency would be expected to last 30 days, and could be shortened or lengthened based on developments.
Kosovo’s Constitution says that if the need arises for emergency defense measures, the president declares a State of Emergency upon consultation with the Prime Minister.
When the State of Emergency is declared, the president “shall immediately issue a decree setting forth the nature of the threat and any limitations on rights and freedoms.” Within 48 hours after the declaration of the State of Emergency, a vote on it takes place in the Assembly; consent requires a two-thirds vote from present and voting deputies.
A State of Emergency empowers the Security Council to perform defined executive actions or impose policies which might limit citizens’ rights and freedoms for a certain amount of time.
According to Kosovo’s Constitution, the president may declare a State of Emergency when emergency defense measures are needed, when there is internal danger to the constitutional order or to public security, or when a natural disaster affects all or part of Kosovo’s territory.
In practical terms, a State of Emergency empowers the Security Council to perform defined executive actions or impose policies which might limit citizens’ rights and freedoms for a certain amount of time; in Kosovo’s case it can be extended up to five months, or in extraordinary cases, Assembly deputies may vote on its further extension.
The National Security Council is chaired by the prime minister, except during a State of Emergency when it is chaired by the president.
Confirmed numbers and measures
As of publication, there have been 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Kosovo, since the first cases were announced on March 13. The latest case was confirmed on Wednesday, March 18, and the patient is a 55-year-old woman from Podujeva.
According to the Institute for Public Health it is a “contact” case, meaning that the person was infected from contact with one of the people who had previously been confirmed to have the virus. Two cases were confirmed on Tuesday, March 17; a 49-year-old woman and a 54-year-old man from Gjakova recently returned from Germany.
Municipalities of Vitia, Malisheva and Klina, as well as Dumnicë village in Podujeva are reported to be under quarantine. The other confirmed cases are from Prizren, Obiliq, Prishtina and Gjakova.
On Tuesday, March 18, the condition of the 10 people who had been hospitalized was described by a Ministry of Health press release to be “stable,” with the exception of one patient, a 77-year-old who is “occasionally being assisted with oxygen therapy.”
According to Kosovo’s Institute for Public Health, medical teams in the respective areas are in the field and contacting the contacts of those confirmed with COVID-19, “for strict surveillance for 14 days, recommending them to self-isolate and those with symptoms to report to the Infectious Diseases Clinic” at the University Clinical Center of Kosovo (QKUK).
If you think you are experiencing symptoms, the number to call for information or consultation remains 038/200-80-800.
The Ministry of Health has also reported that the Infectious Disease Clinic will serve only for the treatment of COVID-19 cases, and the new Sports Medicine facility is also being prepared in order to increase the capacity, with about 100 additional beds. Along with other spaces which are being freed up, in total around 500 beds will be made available in case of an eventual higher number of patients with COVID-19 in QKUK.
On March 18, the government announced that it was designating the Student Center in Prishtina, where the public university’s student dorms are located, as a quarantine space. The government decision says that those who are confirmed or suspected to have been in direct contact with people suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 are to enter the quarantine; it is currently unclear how this is to be implemented in practice, or how it affects those already in quarantine in their homes.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has launched a new website, in three languages, to help people report potential cases of COVID-19 or to find out what the symptoms are: htps://www.kosova.health/
If you think you are experiencing symptoms, the number to call for information or consultation remains 038/200-80-800.
Returning citizens, gathering supplies
The Minister of Infrastructure and Environment Lumir Abdixhiku, announced in a Facebook post on Tuesday night that Kosovo citizens who are out of the country and unable to stay abroad, need to contact Kosovo’s embassies within the next 48 hours.
“We will allow — to the extent possible — the organized return for cases identified by our embassies,” he said. “In cooperation with the Ministry of Health, each returnee will be kept in quarantine for a given time.”
Shqipe Ramadani, a doctor conducting check-ups at the Merdare land border with Serbia, told KosovaPress on March 17 that the influx of buses full of travellers had slowed down from previous days. “There are smaller numbers, so there are no more comings and goings of buses, only some trucks, and some travellers who come here for work,” she said.
Wash hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds, maintain social distance and stay home as much as possible.
She also reported that the medical equipment in use by medical staff were limited. “We have to be frugal when using gloves, masks, uniforms,” she said.
400,000 euros to purchase protective gear for medical personnel, police and customs staff, have been allocated by the government, according to a press release from the Ministry of Health. In addition, from the 10 million euros for the implementation of activities included in the Action Plan against COVID-19, the government has allocated 6.2 million euros for immediate use.
Medical donations, equipment, financial support and other donations have arrived or are expected from the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, local distributors and individuals.
The general prevention advice from the Ministry of Health and Institute for Public Health remains the same: Wash hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds, maintain social distance and stay home as much as possible.
Following government measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, educational institutions have been closed since March 12. Several private schools and universities have started providing online learning for their students.
The Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation has said in a press release that it is making efforts to start online learning for all students, in private and public schools. According to the release, the Ministry is working with service providers so that families with children who do not have internet access can be provided with free online service.
“I can’t give a deadline when it can start, it’s difficult to give a date,” Minister Hykmete Bajrami told Radio Free Europe. “I believe we’ll start with something soon. Students, parents, teachers will be informed very soon.”
Meanwhile, the Association of Independent Electronic Media in Kosovo (AMPEK) has called on the government to assist the media because of the situation with COVID-19. According to AMPEK, government decisions to suspend certain economic activities will directly affect the media, as businesses have already begun to cut marketing contracts with the media.
AMPEK calls on the government to place an immediate moratorium on credit obligations for the media and for payments to be deferred for a period of up to three months. Also, to have a moratorium on “obligations of media towards the state” for a period of up to three months.
Adjusting to life under lockdown
With the recent warm weather, particularly on Tuesday, March 17, many people have gone to Prishtina’s Gërmia National Park, despite the requests of authorities to stay at home and only go out if necessary.
The Mayor of Prishtina Shpend Ahmeti has said in a Facebook post that proximity to other people in a crowd without knowing each other’s health condition is “reckless behavior to themselves, their family and others.”
“We will follow the situation tomorrow (March 18), but it is not a time to picnic,” he said. “There is no need for a curfew but we definitely do not need such relaxation.”
The major supermarket chains have already agreed to limit their opening hours to 08:00-12:00 since Tuesday, largely in order to limit the exposure of staff. Despite government assurances that there is enough food available, there have been reports that many people are still buying in bulk, especially essential items such as flour.
Agon Gashi, CEO of Meridian Express, has told K2.0 that new stocks of flour are being sold out in a matter of hours. “There is enough capacity but it’s a matter of supply chain, time to process it, pack it, deliver it, etc.,” he said.
“So far at Meridian everyone is showing up at work — with the exception of two staff out of more than 500. So far everything is under control, and with the new working hours I believe that we have made it easier and more convenient for our staff.”
Europe goes into lockdown
There are now over 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world. China, Italy, Iran, Spain and Germany are now the top five countries affected by the pandemic. More than 82,000 people have recovered globally, while there have been more than 8,000 deaths.
Montenegro now has two confirmed cases, becoming the last country in Europe to declare confirmed cases. Montenegro Airlines has suspended all flights, while the Montenegrin government has also suspended all international bus and rail travel.
Serbia has stopped all election activity and postponed the general elections scheduled for April 26. It has also begun homeschooling students online and through television. Over 35,000 Serbian citizens are reported to have returned from abroad in the last two days. A general curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., announced by President Aleksandar Vučić, is set to begin on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the European Union has agreed to a 30-day non-essential travel ban, whereby only goods and people commuting to work are allowed to cross into the bloc of 26 countries. Many countries within the EU are also closing their borders with each other, while the UK has advised its citizens against all but essential travel abroad. Germany has pledged 55 million euros to bring back it’s citizens globally. Belgium has also announced a lockdown.
France has declared a 15-day lockdown with all public gatherings banned. Anyone who leaves their home must print out a government form saying why they have left home or face a 135 euro fine. French President Emmanuel Macron has said that, “We are at war.” All rent, gas and mortgage payments in France are suspended.
IOM and UNHCR have announced that they will temporarily stop the resettlement of refugees into safe countries. Some states have stopped accepting refugees and in other cases the disruption to transportation has caused havoc with travel.
Major international sporting and cultural events are also being cancelled. After Euro 2020’s postponement until 2021, the Eurovision Song Contest announced that it will cancel this year’s edition.K
Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.
*Editor’s note: This article was changed after publishing. It was initially published on 18/03/20 under the title “Interior Minister Fired Amongst State of Emergency Debate” but was added to later in the evening to include breaking developments about the proposed motion of no-confidence in the government.