Tags: Serbia | Kosovo | riots

Serbian PM: Kosovo Belongs to Serbia!

Thursday, 21 February 2008 03:32 PM

Rioters opposed to Kosovo's independence stormed the US embassy in Belgrade before setting it on fire on Thursday, after a massive peaceful rally in the Serbian capital.

With no police in sight, several hundred young men dressed in hooded sports tops and scarfs threw flares and broke into the premises on the main boulevard of Kneza Milosa. The embassy was unstaffed at the time.

The ground floor and a side building were burning, with smoke billowing out as anti-riot police backed up by armoured vehicles fought the young men with tear gas.

"There are a number of Serbian citizens ... on a part of the embassy compound, in the consular area," US State Department spokesman spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington.

He urged Serbian authorities to take control of the situation.

Serbian President Boris Tadic, on an official visit to Romania, appealed for an immediate stop to the violence, private news agency Beta reported.

"To all those who are participating in the unrest, I want to ask them to pull back. It only harms the defence of our integrity and sovereignty and the defence of our Kosovo," it quoted Tadic as saying.

Down the road from the US embassy, a guard house was also set alight in front of the German embassy, while a car was alight outside of the Canadian diplomatic mission.

Several thousand people were in the area during the attack, which came after rioters looted shops in several downtown areas and damaged to the Bosnian, Croatian and Turkish embassies.

Police arrived on the scene around half an hour later, and the US embassy fire was brought under control about an hour after it began.

The attack came after more than 150,000 people staged a peaceful protest in front of the old Yugoslav parliament nearby, in a government-organised rally against the independence of Kosovo.

State television switched between images of police fighting the rioters and a simultaneous church service attended by nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church at the nearby Temple of St Sava.

Following the violence, more than 30 people were admitted to an hospital emergency centre, half of them police and two journalists from France and the Netherlands, Beta said, quoting hospital spokesman Dusan Jovanovic

The unrest was the latest in a series of violent incidents following Sunday's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian-dominated parliament -- a move vehemently opposed by Belgrade.

Earlier, several hundred former Serbian army reservists stormed a crossing post on the border with Kosovo, and Italy joined other European powers in recognising the independence of the breakaway Serbian province.

Many Serbs consider Kosovo, which has dozens of Serbian churches and monasteris, the cradle of their history, culture and religion.

In the peaceful protest, crowds chanted "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia" after they converged on the capital in convoys of trains, buses and cars from all over the Balkan country.

"We must show that we are all against this fake independence. Taking Kosovo away from Serbia is like taking away your leg, arm or even child," said Vesna Vujacic, a 54-year-old teacher.

So far, 23 of the 27 EU member states have backed Kosovo's independence, either formally recognising it or declaring their intention to do so. Cyprus, Romania and Spain have explicitly refused to do either.

The latest countries to give their nod to Kosovo on Thursday were Italy, Denmark, Estonia, Luxembourg and Slovenia, which declared its own independence from the former communist Yugoslavia in 1991.

Addressing the huge crowd, PM Kostunica promised Serbia would never accept Kosovo's independence in an emotive speech.

"Kosovo is Serbia's first name. Kosovo belongs to Serbia. Kosovo belongs to Serbian people. It has been like this forever and it will be like this forever," said Kostunica.

The rally was also addressed by Tomislav Nikolic of the ultra-nationalist Radical Party.

"Hitler could not take (Kosovo) away, nor will these ones today be able to," said Nikolic, referring to the Western powers supporting Kosovo.

"You, from the United States and the European Union, you caused huge sadness in our hearts," said Nikolic, speaking on behalf of the parliament where his party is the single strongest force.

"We tell you, we were sad for two days, on the third day Serbs burnt checkpoints, on the fourth day we gathered at the biggest rally Serbia has ever seen."

Kosovo came under UN control in mid-1999, when NATO bombing drove out forces loyal to Serbia's late autocratic president Slobodan Milosevic waging a crackdown on its separatist Albanian guerrillas and their civilian supporters.

© 2008 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

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Rioters opposed to Kosovo's independence stormed the US embassy in Belgrade before setting it on fire on Thursday, after a massive peaceful rally in the Serbian capital.With no police in sight, several hundred young men dressed in hooded sports tops and scarfs threw flares...
Thursday, 21 February 2008 03:32 PM
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