MITROVICA, Kosovo — An explosion tore through a Serb protest in an ethnically divided town of Kosovo yesterday, fatally injuring one man and leaving 11 others with shrapnel wounds, police and doctors said.
It was the latest in a series of violent incidents in Mitrovica over the last two years, as minority Serbs in northern Kosovo have rejected the country’s independence from Serbia and bridle against the majority ethnic Albanian authority in Pristina.
Kosovo police said a hand grenade went off yesterday in the crowd of about 1,000 Serbs protesting the opening of a civil registry office run by Pristina in the Serb-dominated part of Mitrovica.
Shots also were heard at the gathering, and 11 people were injured in the blast, police said. NATO-led peacekeepers and European Union officers were also deployed to the site.
One man died during surgery for chest and heart injuries at a hospital in town, doctors said. They identified him as pediatrician Mensur Dzekovic, and said the others injured were being treated for shrapnel wounds to their limbs.
“We were just standing there and all of the sudden we heard and felt the explosion,’’ said wounded protester Zoran Rakic, according to Serbia’s state-run Tanjug news agency. “I was standing with my wife and felt the pain in my hand.’’
Rakic was quoted as saying the protest had been peaceful until the blast. Authorities were still investigating the incident.
Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi blamed the blast on “careless armed Serb protesters,’’ suggesting a grenade had detonated accidentally.
He said Pristina would not back down from its plan to keep the office running, saying closing it “would send a bad signal’’ on Pristina’s efforts to establish control in the north. The office gives out birth certificates and other documents, but is ignored by Serbs who treat the territory as part of Serbia.
In Belgrade, Serbian President Boris Tadic and the Serbian government said the explosion was meant to provoke Serbia and undermine peace in Kosovo, but said Serbia would not react.
Tadic called, however, for an urgent session of the National Security Council, the country’s top security body. The council called the explosion “a terrorist act by Albanian separatists.’’