Kosovo Mourns 10 Compatriots Killed In Croatia Bus Crash

People come to the house of one of the drivers, Naser Sylmetaj (on picture, right), who also died in Sunday's road accident in Croatia, in Gjakove, 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the capital Pristina, Monday, July 26. 2021. Kosovo is in a mourning on Monday with flags at half-staff and the parliament postponing its session due to the death of 10 Kosovars in an accident of their bus swerving while driving in Croatia.  A bus with 67 passengers, including children, and two drivers, was driving from Frankfurt, Germany to Kosovo. (AP Photo/Zenel Zhinipotoku)
People come to the house of one of the drivers, Naser Sylmetaj (on picture, right), who also died in Sunday's road accident in Croatia, in Gjakove, 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the capital Pristina, Monday, July 26. 2021. Kosovo is in a mourning on Monday with flags at half-staff and the parliament postponing its session due to the death of 10 Kosovars in an accident of their bus swerving while driving in Croatia. A bus with 67 passengers, including children, and two drivers, was driving from Frankfurt, Germany to Kosovo. (AP Photo/Zenel Zhinipotoku)

DEVE, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo observed a day of mourning with flags at half-staff and parliament postponed its session Monday in memory of 10 Kosovars who died when their bus crashed in Croatia.

The bus carrying 65 passengers and two drivers swerved off a highway while traveling from Frankfurt, Germany to Kosovo early Sunday. Authorities said the driver who was behind the wheel at the time of the crash had briefly fallen asleep and lost control of the vehicle.

Kosovo’s Foreign Ministry said one person remained hospitalized with injuries in serious condition, 15 were in stable condition and 26 had been released.

“Many of them, especially the children, had the experience of horror written on their faces,” Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla-Schwarz wrote on Facebook after returning from Croatia.

The other driver was one of the people killed, according to his brother. Ilir Sylmetaj said his brother, Naser, had been driving for two decades and for the last year worked with the travel agency that organized the bus trip. He left behind a wife and three sons.

A 45-year-old mother and one of her three daughters also died in the crash. Valentina Binakaj was coming from the southern German city of Ulm, where her husband runs a small company, to take part in her sister’s engagement when she and her 19-year-old daughter, Erlinda, were killed.

The surviving daughters called their father, who immediately drove to the site near the town of Slavonski Brod. The highway between the Croatian capital of Zagreb and Serbia's border is a key summer artery for Kosovars who live and work abroad.

“We express condolences to all and hope such an accident will occur no more because it is a grave pain, really,” Rasim Binakaj, the brother-in-law and uncle of the dead mother and daughter, said, shedding tears as he showed a photo of Erlinda to Associated Press journalist.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, three government ministers and other top officials joined Croatian officials in reviewing the crash site and visiting injured people at the hospital.

“Hundreds of citizens who live outside Kosovo, they come to Kosovo, and our economy depends on this,” Kurti said.

Gjakove Mayor Ardian Gjini said Kosovo has seen this summer an especially large number of citizens “who did not make it to come back home and visit their families last year because of the pandemic.”

“It’s been a sad day. We lost 10 of our compatriots who have lived and worked in Western Europe,” he said.

On the otherwise somber occasion, an athlete from Kosovo brought the country a reason for joy. Nora Gjakova won an Olympic gold medal in judo.

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Llazar Semini contributed reporting from Tirana, Albania.