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Serbia's Hold on Kosovo Has Deep Roots: a Primer

These are key facts about Serbia's Kosovo province, where violence erupted during protests Monday after weekend clashes between security forces and majority ethnic Albanians left more than 20 people dead.

Area. About twice the size of Delaware with 4,252 square miles, it is the southern province of Serbia, which, together with Montenegro, comprises what remains of Yugoslavia.

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Population. About 1.95 million, of whom about 90 per cent are Muslim ethnic Albanians. The remainder are mostly Christian Orthodox Serbs and Montenegrins. About 200,000 live in Pristina, the provincial capital.

Economy. Kosovo is the poorest region of the former Yugoslavia, with wages among the lowest in Europe and high unemployment. Key industries: lignite mining, acid and cement production.

History. The area's earliest known settlers were Illyrians, ancestors of the Albanians. Slavs settled later, from the 7th to 9th centuries.

Although Serbs are greatly outnumbered by ethnic Albanians in modern Kosovo, Serb nationalists regard the region as their historic heartland. A supposedly heroic defeat in battle against the Ottoman Turks in Kosovo in 1389 has been elevated to the Serbs' most powerful national legend.

In 1459 the Ottoman Empire imposed direct rule, which lasted until 1912. With the collapse of both the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires in 1918, Kosovo became part of the newly created Yugoslavia, dominated by a Serbian monarchy until World War II.

Kosovo guerrillas joined other Yugoslavs in fighting Nazi occupiers but were soon fighting against Yugoslav troops for control of the region as the Nazis retreated. In 1945 Kosovo became part of postwar Communist Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito.

In the 1950s Tito's security chief Alexandar Rankovic, a Serb, ruthlessly repressed Kosovo separatism. But a highly decentralized federal system introduced in 1974 allowed the region to develop its own security, judiciary, territorial defense, and foreign relations. This left Serbia, Yugoslavia's biggest republic, with scarcely any control.

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Civil unrest broke out in 1968 and in 1981, fueled by the confrontation between Albanian desire for more autonomy and Serbian nationalism. As Yugoslavia began to fragment in the late 1980s, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic seized on Kosovo as a symbol of Serb grievances. He engineered amendments to the Yugoslav Constitution dissolving Kosovo's government.

Ethnic Albanians formed an unofficial assembly and government. Elections and a referendum they organized were declared illegal by Belgrade, which tightened control of the region during the 1990s and tried to encourage migration there by Serbs.

The goals of ethnic Albanian activists have varied. Some seek autonomy; a minority call for unification with Albania. Until recent months, the anti-Belgrade campaign was typified by peaceful activism. But many diplomats now worry about a wider regional conflict.

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