Serbia's president says Kosovo PM's resignation is a 'trick'

Serbia's president has described as a "political trick" the decision by Kosovo's prime minister to step down over a call for questioning by a Hague-based court investigating crimes against ethnic Serbs during and after the country's 1998-99 war

BELGRADE, Serbia -- The surprise decision by Kosovo's prime minister to step down over a call for questioning from a Hague-based court has been slammed as a "political trick" by Serbia's president.

Aleksandar Vucic said Saturday that Ramush Haradinaj's resignation the day before was designed to rally popular support and could fuel ethnic tensions in Kosovo.

Haradinaj said he made the decision to step down after the court, which is investigating crimes against ethnic Serbs during around the 1998-99 war between Serbia and Kosovo, summoned him for questioning.

He said he didn't want to appear before the court as prime minister.

Haradinaj was a top ethnic Albanian rebel commander during the conflict which resulted in more than 10,000 people killed before NATO air strikes forced Serbia to pull out.

A former Serbian province, Kosovo declared independence in 2008, a move that Belgrade does not recognize. Talks between the two that are being mediated by the European Union, stalled last year over Kosovo's decision to impose a 100% tax on goods from Serbia.

Vucic said Serbia is ready to return to the negotiating table as soon as Kosovo abolishes the tariffs. However, he said, any snap election in Kosovo would mean that a resumption would be impossible and taxes won't be removed.

"We fear that political developments in Kosovo lead to further delay of talks and dialogue with Pristina," Vucic told reporters. "The resignation of Ramush Haradinaj is a political trick so he can gain more popularity and crush political opponents."

Serbia has repeatedly accused Haradinaj of war crimes against Serbs in Kosovo. He was prosecuted and acquitted twice by a U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Ramush Haradinaj said he agreed to be interviewed next week at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a temporary body which is part of Kosovo's judicial system although it is Hague-based and has international staff.

Kosovo agreed to set up the court in 2015 following U.S. and European pressure to confront allegations that fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army committed war crimes between 1998 and 2000.