Serbia has condemned Nato-led peacekeepers stationed in neighbouring Kosovo for their alleged failure to stop “brutal actions” by Kosovo police against ethnic Serbs.
Officials in Serbia said its armed forces stationed near the border will remain on the highest state of alert until further notice.
The country’s top political and security leadership, led by president Aleksandar Vucic, met in Belgrade on Saturday following violent clashes a day earlier between Kosovo police and ethnic Serbs that injured more than a dozen people.
In response to the clashes, Mr Vucic on Friday had ordered troops closer to the border with Kosovo.
A statement issued after the meeting on Saturday said: “Due to the brutal use of force by (Kosovo prime minister) Albin Kurti and his forces against the Serbian people in Kosovo … the armed forces of the Republic of Serbia will remain at the highest level of combat readiness.”
The statement also said that an international civilian mission and Nato-led troops, that have been stationed in the former Serbian province since Serbian troops were forced to leave the region in 1999, “did not do their job” to protect the Serbs.
Nato spokesperson Oana Longescu urged “institutions in Kosovo to de-escalate immediately” and called on all parties “to resolve the situation through dialogue”.
She said on Twitter that Nato “remains vigilant & will ensure a safe & secure environment” in Kosovo.
Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo, who are a majority in that part of the country, had tried to block recently-elected ethnic Albanian officials from entering municipal buildings on Friday.
Last month’s snap local election was largely boycotted by ethnic Serbs and only ethnic Albanian or other smaller minority representatives were elected in the mayoral posts and assemblies.
Kosovo police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd and let the new officials into the offices. Several cars were set ablaze.
The United States and several Western countries condemned Kosovo’s government for using police to forcibly allow entry to the municipal buildings.
Mr Kurti on Saturday defended the police action.
“It is the right of those elected in democratic elections to assume office without threats or intimidation,” he said on Twitter.
“It is also the right of citizens to be served by those elected officials. Participation – not violent obstruction – is the proper way to express political views in a democracy.”