BELGRADE, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- About 2,000 protesters crammed into the central square of the southern Serbian town of Presevo on Monday to demand the Serbian central government return a monument to insurgent ethnic Albanians, which had been removed by police on Sunday, reported Radio Television Serbia (RTS).
The protest was a response to Sunday's police action that saw about 200 armed members of the Serbian Gendarmerie descended upon the empty square with a bulldozer in the morning hours, loading and hauling away the large granite monument within 30 minutes.
The monument to the fallen ethnic Albanians belonging to a paramilitary organization seeking the secession of the southern Serbian municipalities with a majority Albanian population was also the source of growing tension between Belgrade and Pristina in recent weeks.
"Serbia has shown enough patience, but it sent a clear and strong message that the law must be respected and that no one is more powerful than the state," said Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic upon learning of the removal of the monument erected by the municipal council in November 2012, but whose removal was ordered by January 17.
Ethnic Albanian Parliamentarian Riza Halimi, however, called for the return of the memorial to local "heroes." He called on Belgrade to terminate the rhetoric "that today labels young people defending their homes in 2001 as Albanian terrorists."
"The resolution of this knotty issue between Albanians and the Serbian government must start from the beginning, the key issue being individual and collective liberties and the rights of the Albanians of the Presevo valley," said Halimi.
Protesters called for the mediation of international factors to resolve the issue of the monument and other outstanding complaints of the ethnic Albanian community in Serbia. Serbia, nonetheless, maintains the removal of the statue remains a domestic matter.
Nudists rally for right to bare it all
Unforgettable moments you cannot miss in December
Bloody scenery of shark hunting
Sao Paulo faces hot weather in January
Finland celebrates Epiphany with slide show
Children taking cold-resistant exercise