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Belgrade urges Serbs in Kosovo to accept EU-brokered deal

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(KOSOVSKA MITROVICA) - Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic Sunday urged Serbs living in northern Kosovo to accept an EU-brokered agreement to normalise relations between Serbia and its breakaway former province, while admitting the accord was not ideal.

The 40,000 Serbs make up the majority of residents of northern Kosovo and are largely opposed to the deal, which determines the amount of autonomy afforded to them in Kosovo, which proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008 -- a move never accepted by Belgrade.

"I'm not saying that the agreement is good, but at this stage we could not get anything better," Vucic said, during a joint meeting in Kosovska Mitrovica with officials of the four municipalities in northern Kosovo.

"I could list many reasons to oppose the agreement, but there is an important point in its favour. It is the only way for Serbia to survive, to exist and remain united in the search for a path to a better future," Vucic stressed.

More than 3,000 people protested Friday against the EU-brokered deal to normalise ties between Belgrade and breakaway Kosovo, seen by ultra-nationalists as Serbia's tacit recognition of its former foe's independence.

The protest was called by northern Kosovo Serb political leaders who, along with the ultra-nationalists, have fiercely opposed the implementation of the deal.

The accord, reached last month in Brussels, gives some autonomy to the 40,000 ethnic Serbs living in northern Kosovo, who refuse to recognise Pristina's authority.

Serbia lost control over its former southern province in June 1999 after a NATO bombing campaign halted late strongman Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown against the pro-independence ethnic Albanian majority and ousted Serbian armed forces from Kosovo.

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