Date: 21 Feb 2008


Rioters Set Fire to US Belgrade Embassy Amid Massive Protests 
Gro▀ansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  Some protesters set American flags on fire and stormed the US embassy in Belgrade Scores of Serbs broke into the American embassy in Belgrade and set it ablaze on Thursday, Feb. 21, amid mass protests against US and EU support of Kosovo's declaration of independence.

Smoke billowed from the US embassy in Belgrade on Thursday, Feb. 21, as hundreds of thousands massed in the Serbian capital for an emotive rally against Kosovo's declaration of independence.

Though the demonstrations were largely peaceful, a group of more than 300 demonstrators targeted the US embassy, setting fire to an office there. One protester climbed up to the first floor of the building, located on one of the Serbian capital's main boulevards, ripped the Stars and Stripes off its pole and briefly put up a Serbian flag in its place. 

Protesters jumped up and down on the embassy balcony, holding up a Serbian flag as the crowd below of about 1,000 people cheered them on, shouting "Serbia, Serbia." Some 200 riot police finally arrived about half an hour later, beating and arresting some of the rioters and driving the rest away. Some protesters sat on the ground, bleeding. 

The neighboring Croatian embassy also was attacked by the same group of protesters. Units of the elite gendarmerie paramilitaries drove armored jeeps down the street and fired dozens of tear gas canisters to clear the crowd. 

Mass protests in Belgrade

More than 200,000 protestors massed in Belgrade for an emotive rally against Kosovo's declaration of independence. Thousands of people walked to the "Kosovo is Serbia" demonstration in front of the old Yugoslav parliament in downtown Belgrade. Many waved Serbian national flags, chanting, "We'll never give up Kosovo, never!"

Bildunterschrift: Gro▀ansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  Many demonstrators said Serbia would never accept the loss of its cultural heartland
"As long as we live, Kosovo is Serbia," Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told the crowd from a stage. "We're not alone in our fight. President Putin is with us," Kostunica said, referring to the Russian leader who has opposed US and European states' recognition of Kosovo.

Serbia remains vehemently opposed to Kosovo's independence. The United States and many of Europe's largest nations, including Germany and France, have recognized the state. 

The West has maintained that Serbia relinquished the moral right to rule the people of Kosovo due to brutal crimes against the ethnic Albanian population under the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. 

Serbs, however, see Kosovo as the cradle of their culture and the region is home to numerous Orthodox monasteries, prompting Serbs to say they will never surrender the province.

More violence on Kosovo-Serb border

Bildunterschrift: Gro▀ansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  

Ethnic Serbs set fire to UN vehicles at a border crossing earlier in the week

Meanwhile, in the second violent incident on the Kosovo-Serbian border since Sunday's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian-dominated parliament, several hundred former Serbian army reservists attacked Kosovo police on Thursday, Feb. 21.

A group of 400 pelted around 100 police officers with rocks and hurled burning tires at the border crossing point of Merdare in southern Serbia. Police erected metal barricades and barbed wire as a helicopter of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force monitored the situation from the sky.

Troops from NATO's 17,000-strong KFOR force intervened earlier this week when violence flared up at another border crossing after protests by ethnic Serbs. 

"The right decision"

Meeting in Slovenia to review security arrangements for the region, European Union defense ministers remained confident that NATO and EU troops could hold the peace in the Balkans.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said Tuesday's events, where NATO forces needed to intervene, showed local police in Kosovo could not ensure security by themselves, but said it demonstrated good cooperation on the ground between NATO and the United Nations personnel.

Bildunterschrift: Gro▀ansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  Jung said KFOR troops are keeping the peace
"In particular thanks to the support of KFOR, things are under control," Jung, who returned from a trip to Pristina, told reporters.

Replying to a question about whether he was concerned that ethnic tensions could spill over into multi-ethnic Bosnia, where the EU has 2,500 troops in a peace force inherited from NATO in 2004, Jung said: "We have seen no indications of that so far."

Speaking in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Thursday the KFOR peacekeeping force "has the capability for us to prevent" any partition of Kosovo.

He was speaking after meeting with Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht in Berlin to discuss the diplomatic fallout from Sunday's Kosovo declaration of independence. Both Germany and Belgium have recognized the new state, angering Serbia.

No partition

Bildunterschrift: Gro▀ansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has ruled out the possibility of partition
Answering a question as to whether the West could prevent Kosovo's ethnic Serb regions breaking away from the new state, Steinmeier said that "even if that intention is lodged in the minds of some people," it could be prevented.

Steinmeier said the European Union's objective in Kosovo had always been "to ensure a democratic but also a multi-ethnic future." 

De Gucht said, "Europe has taken the right decision." The Belgian minister added he hoped that Serbia would be willing to resume cooperation with the European Union "sooner rather than later." Both ministers said the objective must be to develop Kosovo so that it became self-sustaining, with de Gucht saying the key was "to invest in the future." 

EU mission deemed illegal by some

The EU has launched a 2,000-strong mission to supervise and advise the Kosovo police and help the judicial sector. The mission will take over powers from the existing UN operation by mid-June.

Belgrade and Russia however insist that the EU presence is illegal and without a proper UN mandate.

Kosovo has been under United Nations administration since 1999, when NATO drove Serbian forces out of the territory. 

DW staff (sp)