Politician's murder stokes fear of instability in Balkans

MITROVICA -- People in a northern Kosovo town paid their respects on Wednesday to the Serb politician who was gunned down in an attack that has raised fears of instability in the Balkans.

Hundreds lighted candles outside the headquarters of Oliver Ivanovic's political party in Mitrovica, where unknown attackers opened fire on him on Tuesday. Some people cried as they stood in silence at the scene.

"What can I say? It's Serb sadness, misery and misfortune," said Ljubica Pavlovic, 52, as she placed a rose by Ivanovic's photo.

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Oliver Ivanovic, one of the main political leaders of Serbs in northern Kosovo, as he casts his ballot during local elections on  November 3, 2013 in Kosovka Mitrovica. Getty

An autopsy has shown that Ivanovic was shot six times in the upper torso. He was one of the key politicians in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, a former Serbian province where tensions remain high a decade after Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a separate country. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has announced he will visit Kosovo on the weekend amid fears of renewed tensions after Ivanovic's killing, which also prompted the suspension of EU-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov warned in the EU parliament in Strasbourg that "you saw what happened yesterday, just one bullet, and the situation changed dramatically."

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Kosovo police officers secure the area where the leading Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic was killed in a brazen drive-by shooting in Mitrovica on January 16, 2018. Getty

"The Balkans are a very fragile construction and if it starts shaking the whole of Europe will start shaking," he said.

Ivanovic, a moderate, had enemies both among Kosovo Albanians and nationalist Serbs. He maintained relations with NATO and EU officials after Serbia lost control of northern Kosovo following NATO's 1999 bombing to stop a deadly Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

A Kosovo court convicted him of war crimes from the 1998-99 Kosovo war. The verdict eventually was overturned and a retrial was underway.

Ivanovic's body will be transferred to the Serbian capital, Belgrade, where he will be buried on Thursday.