(VIDEO IN EXTENDED ARTICLE)
Lawmakers in Kosovo approved a contentious and long-pending border demarcation deal with Montenegro Wednesday despite the opposition’s use of tear gas to prevent a vote.
The 120-seat parliament voted 80-11 to endorse the deal, ensuring its passage with the minimum two-thirds support required.
The European Union has set the border agreement as a precondition for Kosovo’s citizens to travel without visas in Europe’s the Schengen travel zone.
Kosovo Assembly Speaker Kadri Veseli said he was hopeful the EU would follow through and let Kosovars enjoy visa-free, as citizens of other Balkan region countries already do.
The opposition Self-Determination party says Kosovo loses 8,200 hectares (20,000 acres) of its territory under the agreement, which was reached in August 2015. The previous government and international experts deny that.
Opposition leader Albin Kurti complained that most of the party’s lawmakers were barred from the vote or taken away by police for questioning after the tear gas was set off in the Kosovo Assembly.
“Today, 80 lawmakers joined the treason of President (Hashim) Thaci, joined the violation of Kosovo’s Constitution and its territorial integrity,” Kurti said.
At least two lawmakers were injured. Amid the chaos, the session failed four consecutive times to call the vote, but Speaker Kadri Veseli insisted it would take place.
“Today, the trauma of the Montenegro border demarcation will end. The vote will be held today,” he said.
Police entered parliament and forced out a small group of opposition lawmakers, who had refused to leave since the morning. Eight of them were barred from taking part in the session and seven were taken to a police station for questioning.
It wasn’t clear if they were the same lawmakers who were barred from parliament.
Police also searched every person entering the chamber.
The opposition party, now divided into two groups because of internal frictions, has used tear gas and similar tactics to disrupt parliament over the past three years.
The collapse of votes for the border demarcation agreement and another proposal seeking to give more rights to the ethnic Serb minority toppled the previous government and took the country to an early election last year.
Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said there were enough votes to pass the deal. But the two-thirds threshold required defections from the opposition ranks. One opposition lawmaker joined a governing majority party.
President Hashim Thaci, who signed the deal in 2015 when he was foreign minister, will decree the border agreement as the final step.
Representatives of western powers denounced the use of tear gas and urged the lawmakers to hold the vote in favor of the deal.
“This is really great news. Congratulations Kosovo. Kosovo did the right thing,” U.S. Ambassador Greg Delawie said after the vote.
Montenegro, which has approved the deal, recognizes Kosovo’s 2008 independence from Serbia, which Belgrade still rejects.