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Rioters attack U.S. embassy in Serbia


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Luke Hodiak
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« on: February 21, 2008, 01:11:02 pm »

Reports: Serb protesters attack U.S. embassy
Story Highlights
NEW: Serbs protesters set fire to U.S. Embassy facade in Belgrade, AP reports

Hundreds of Serb army reservists storm Merdare border crossing

Serbian President Boris Tadic: "Serbia will not take the path of isolation"

Italy is latest European nation to recognize Kosovo's declaration

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(CNN) -- Violence broke out Thursday as tens of thousands of Serbs protested Kosovo independence and reportedly set fire to the facade of the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, according to news agencies.


An estimated 150,000 protesters took to the streets in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.




1 of 3more photos   Riot police fired tear gas at Serb rioters as protesters wearing masks broke into the embassy.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said; "We are in contact with the Serbian government to ensure that they devote the appropriate assets to fulfill their international obligations to help protect diplomatic facilities in this case."

The embassy was closed and not staffed, a U.S. official told CNN. The United States was among the first countries to offer official recognition of independent Kosovo.

The violence was part of a much bigger, peaceful demonstration where up to 150,000 people chanted 'Kosovo is Serbia," and vowed to never accept the province's independence.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who earlier addressed the rally, said "Kosovo is Serbia's first name." He called the declaration of independence last Sunday illegal and said will do all he can to get it annulled.

State railroads provided free transport to protesters, and schools across the country were closed Thursday for the "Kosovo is Ours" rally in the Serb capital, The Associated Press reported.  Watch the Serb protests

Tensions also erupted at the Kosovo border checkpoint in Merdare -- about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Kosovo's capital Pristina -- as several hundred Serbian army reservists clashed with NATO-led peacekeepers and police, AP said.

Photographs showed demonstrators, many of them wearing their reservist uniform, hurling rocks and setting tires alight to create a wall of smoke before they charged past the checkpoint shouting "Kosovo is ours! Kosovo is Serbia.

U.N. police said the demonstrators had come by bus from the Serbian town of Kursumlija and were largely army veterans who had fought with the Serbian side in Kosovo's 1998-1999 war, AP reported.

Following the clashes, the demonstrators dismantled and returned to the Serbian side of the checkpoint, according to AP.

Meanwhile several hundred Bosnian Serbs rallied in the Bosnian city of Banja Luka and in the Sarajevo suburb of Lukavica, AP said.

Students in Lukavica were seen waving Serbian flags and singing Serbian patriotic songs while police in Banja Luka were stopping demonstrators from marching on the U.S. consulate there.

The breakaway region has been recognized by the U.S. and several EU nations including the UK, France and Germany but the government in Belgrade maintains that Kosovo is a part of Serbia.

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Amid simmering tensions in northern Kosovo, home to most of the region's Serb minority, there were fears that Thursday's rally could spill over into violence, as was seen at the Merdare border crossing, following attacks by Serb nationalists on western targets in Belgrade including the U.S. embassy earlier this week.

The U.S. Embassy in Belgrade advised American citizens to stay away from the gathering, warning that "businesses and organizations with U.S. affiliations may serve as focal points for these demonstrations."

"We wish to remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any protests," a statement said.

On Thursday, Italy became the latest European nation to recognize Kosovo's sovereignty, AP reported.

"The recognition of Kosovo's independence does not take away anything from our closeness to Serbia," Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi told reporters.

Speaking in Romania on Thursday, Serbia's recently re-elected president, Boris Tadic, insisted his country would not cut itself off from the rest of Europe or give up its quest for EU membership amid rising anti-Western sentiment.

"Serbia will not take the path of isolation," Tadic said in Bucharest, AP reported. "Serbia will not give up its future in Europe."

Russia and China continue to oppose Kosovo's declaration of independence while Spain has expressed concern that recognition will give momentum to secessionist movements in other countries, such as the Basques in northern Spain.

On Wednesday, the commander of NATO forces in Kosovo said he did not plan to step up security despite violent attacks by Kosovo Serbs which forced the temporary closure of two boundary crossings between Kosovo and Serbia.

"We are going to maintain security in those two locations, but I do not intend to deploy any more forces there for the time being," Lt. Gen. Xavier de Marnhac told the news conference, a day after protesters set fire to the crossings.  Watch flames ravage border posts.

The U.N. special representative to Kosovo, Joachim Ruecker, said the attacks were unacceptable.

"Violence is absolutely not an option and will not be tolerated in Kosovo," Ruecker told a news conference Wednesday. But he added, "I tend to see this as a one-time incident, and I think it was responded to in an appropriate way."

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KFOR troops, which number 16,000, have mostly been patrolling Kosovo's international borders, which have not included the boundary line with Serbia.

After Tuesday's attacks, however, Ruecker requested that KFOR troops deploy to the two crossing points, a spokesman for UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) said.

The European Union is also sending in a force of 1,900 police officers, customs and judicial officials to support Kosovo's police force.


Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu met Wednesday with new EU special representative, Pieter Feith, and afterward tried to reassure Kosovo's Serbs that they will be protected.

"What is important for us is that we invite all of Kosovo's citizens, especially Serbs, to return to and share lives as soon as possible, especially the part of the population that has second thoughts about it," Sejdiu told a news conference. "Kosovo is one, internationally supported and with a vision for the future." E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/02/21/kosovo.independence/index.html
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