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Kosovo hopes to join Council of Europe after Russia’s exit

FILE PHOTO: People are pictured through Kosovo flag as they take part in celebrations of the 10th anniversary of Kosovo's independence in Pristina, Kosovo February 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Kosovo government said on Thursday it will apply for membership at the European rights watchdog the Council of Europe, seizing an opportunity after Russia quit the body in mid-March.

Russia left the body hours before a vote on its expulsion in the Council of Europe’s assembly on March 15, three weeks after it started its attack on Ukraine.

Being accepted into the organisation requires a two-thirds vote by members, and with Russia not recognising Kosovo as an independent state, there had been a risk any previous application would fail.

Kosovo says it now has enough backing from the 46-member body to be accepted and the government said it had ordered the foreign ministry to start membership procedures.

Backed by Western countries, Kosovo declared independence in 2008 almost a decade after the war between ethnic Albanians and Serb forces ended in 1999.

Kosovo is recognised by more than 110 countries but it is still not a U.N member, facing objections from its former master Serbia and veto holder Russia.

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said his country would strongly react if Kosovo applied for Council of Europe membership and called an urgent meeting of the national security council.

The Council of Europe created the European Convention on Human Rights and helped eastern European nations to democratise their political systems after the collapse of Communism.

It advocates freedom of expression and of the media, freedom of assembly, equality, and the protection of minorities.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Alison Williams)

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