(AFP) – Feb 22, 2008
PRISTINA (AFP) — Serb protesters clashed with UN police in a divided Kosovo town on Friday as the United States, European Union and United Nations condemned attacks by rioters on Western embassies in Belgrade.
Diplomatic tensions heightened as Russia argued that nations backing Kosovo's independence had only themselves to blame for the Belgrade disturbances in which one person was killed.
In the latest unrest sparked by Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia on Sunday, about 2,500 protestors hurled firecrackers and flares at international police guarding a bridge in the ethnically divided northern town of Mitrovica, officials said.
UN and Kosovo police pushed back the troublemakers to "isolate them from the crowd," a security official told AFP. An official with the NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo (KFOR) later said calm had been restored in Mitrovica.
Mitrovica in northern Kosovo is divided between the ethnic-Albanian majority and Serbs and has become a symbol of the tensions between the two sides as Kosovo has moved to break from Serbia.
The European Union meanwhile called on Serbia to ensure the protection of foreign delegations, after rioters stormed the US embassy and other missions Thursday night.
Some 130 people were injured in the unrest that followed a largely peaceful rally of 150,000 demonstrators protesting against Kosovo's declaration of independence.
The US White House called the rioters "thugs" and lodged an angry protest with Belgrade, complaining about the late deployment of riot police.
"We have made known to the Serbian government our concern and displeasure that their police force did not prevent this incident," President George W. Bush's spokeswoman said.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the situation was "intolerable".
A charred body was recovered from the embassy. An embassy spokeswoman said the unidentified victim was not a staff member.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana stressed that Serbia had an "obligation" to protect embassies, and said talks on an accord that could lead to Serbia joining the 27-nation bloc would be put on ice. All but four of the 27 EU member states have backed Kosovo's split from Serbia.
"Things will have to calm down before we can recuperate a climate that would allow for any contact to move on," Solana said.
The UN Security Council condemned "the mob attacks," in a statement, but Russia, which is staunchly opposed to Kosovo independence, said the anger behind the violence was understandable.
"What happened yesterday in Belgrade can only be a cause for regret," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said.
"But we would like to point out that those forces that supported Kosovo's proclamation of independence should have been aware of the consequences of such a step," he was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
Russia's envoy to NATO warned that formal backing for independence by the EU or NATO would set a precedent for using "brute force" to resolve disputes.
Kosovo came under UN control in 1999 after NATO bombing drove out forces loyal to Serbia's late strongman Slobodan Milosevic who had been waging a crackdown on separatist Albanian guerrillas.
As well as the arson attack on the US embassy, a German embassy guard house was torched and a car set ablaze outside the Canadian diplomatic mission. Other embassies targeted included those of Bosnia, Croatia and Turkey.
Germany warned that further violence would "inevitably have an impact" on relations between the European Union and Serbia. France and Spain also condemned the attacks.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said he regretted the violence, which he warned would harm the Balkan country's efforts keep Kosovo.
"Violence and destruction are directly damaging our fight to preserve state and national interests," Kostunica added.
After attacking the embassies, the rioters moved to other parts of Belgrade, setting alight a McDonald's restaurant and ransacking a Levi's clothing shop.
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