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UK, France, Italy, Germany and U.S. condemn Kosovo violence

Clashes between Kosovo police and ethnic Serb protesters in the town of Zvecan

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain, France, Italy, Germany and the United States condemned Kosovo's decision to force access to municipal buildings in northern Kosovo on Friday, calling on the authorities to step back and de-escalate the situation.

"We condemn Kosovo's decision to force access to municipal buildings in northern Kosovo despite our call for restraint. We call on Kosovo’s authorities to immediately step back and de-escalate, and to closely coordinate with EULEX (the EU mission) and KFOR (NATO's mission in Kosovo," the countries said in a joint statement posted on the British government's website.

"We are concerned by Serbia's decision to raise the level of readiness of its Armed Forces at the border with Kosovo and call all parties for maximum restraint, avoiding inflammatory rhetoric."

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic placed the country's army on full combat alert and ordered army units to move closer to the border with Kosovo on Friday, after protesters and police clashed in a majority Serb town in the neighbouring country.

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Police fired tear gas in the town of Zvecan to disperse a crowd from in front of a municipality building. The protesters were trying to prevent a newly-elected ethnic Albanian mayor from entering his office following an election which Kosovo Serbs had boycotted.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)