One dead as protestors attack US embassy in Belgrade

February 22nd, 2008 - 10:09 am ICT by admin  

Belgrade, Feb 22 (DPA) Angry Serbian nationalists set fire to a mostly deserted US embassy in Belgrade out of anger over Kosovo’s independence, leaving one person dead as break-off groups from a massive peaceful rally stirred violence in the country’s capital. More than 100 people were injured Thursday as demonstrators looted and smashed storefronts across Belgrade. The protests also spread to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A charred, unidentified corpse was found in the US embassy, TV B92 reported. A spokesman for the US embassy in Belgrade, William Wanlund, said on CNN that the body appeared to be that of a protester.

Only US security personnel were present during the embassy attack.

The protestors defaced and ransacked the US and Croatian embassies on Kneza Milosa Street and lobbed stones at the Turkish, Bosnian and German embassies, agitating unhindered for nearly an hour after nightfall before police arrived on the scene.

They burnt foreign flags and replaced them with Serb flags, and set a vehicle on fire at the Canadian embassy, near the US mission.

Serbia continued ordering its ambassadors home for consultations from countries that recognized Kosovo, including the US, France, Germany, Britain, Turkey, Australia and 10 other countries.

Serbian leaders vowed to hold onto Kosovo during a protest of more than 200,000 earlier in the day. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica delivered a dramatic speech to the rally, though he had also urged demonstrators to remain peaceful.

“Kosovo belongs to Serbia. Kosovo belongs to Serbian people. It has always been so and it will be so forever,” the normally reserved Kostunica screamed into the microphone. “No force, no threats or promises can change that.”

Kosovo declared independence Sunday, the last of the one-time Yugoslav territories to break away from Belgrade since the Balkans ethnic conflicts of the 1990s.

Fire fighters doused the US embassy blaze and armoured police vehicles drove down the broad embassy-studded, symbol-laden Kneza Milosa street, accompanied by dozens of riot police who fired teargas and drove protestors away.

The US urged Serbian authorities to protect the US embassy and was in contact with the Serbian government “to ensure that they devote the appropriate assets” to protect diplomatic facilities, spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.

Former US ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated the 1995 Dayton peace accord for the Balkans, noted in a broadcast interview that Serbian security forces should have been protecting the US embassy.

In New York, the US called on the UN Security Council to condemn the attacks. The council said it would issue a statement later Thursday.

The governing and opposition parties had organized the “Kosovo is Serbia” rally earlier in the day, financing free bus and rail transport from all over Serbia, closing factories and schools.

The demonstrators packed the large plateau, boulevard and park outside the national assembly in the country’s largest gathering since the October 2000 protests that toppled late strongman leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Kosovo had been under a UN and NATO protectorate since NATO stopped Milosevic’s forces in 1999 from the ethnic cleansing of Albanian Muslims in Kosovo. Kneza Milosa Street, where the US embassy is, holds symbolic importance after NATO planes bombed military sites there in 1999. The buildings have been left unrepaired.

Kostunica has frozen Serbia’s approach to EU membership in protest against Western support of Kosovo, branding the presumed exchange of Kosovo for membership of the EU an “indecent proposal”.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping force “has the capability for us to prevent” any partition of Kosovo to the remaining minority Serbs and maintain order.

Pope Benedict XVI Thursday called on all sides to act with “prudence and moderation” and promote reconciliation in the region.

Serb protests spread across the region. In Banja Luka and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzogovina, police used teargas to prevent some 3,000 protesting students from attacking consulates and looting shops. 14 Bosnian Serb policemen and several students were slightly injured.

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