Serb protesters attack US embassy

Embassy set on fire by protesters angry at Kosovo's declaration of independence.

    The White House accused Serbian police of failing
    to protect the embassy from "thugs" [AFP]

    Serbian protesters angry at Kosovo's declaration of independence have attacked the US embassy in Belgrade, setting the building on fire.


    No embassy staff were in the building at the time, but one protester was trapped and died in the blaze.


    The White House has condemned the Serbian authorities for not doing enough to protect the US mission, saying it had been "attacked by thugs".


    In a conference call to reporters from Air Force One, spokeswoman Dana Perino said the United States has expressed its "concern and displeasure" to the Serbian government, saying the police had not acted to prevent the violence at the embassy.


    Earlier on Thursday an estimated crowd of at least 100,000 people gathered outside the parliament in an initially peaceful rally to oppose Kosovo's decision to secede from Serbia.


    Later, however, riot police clashed with protesters after the facade of the embassy was set on fire by flares as hundreds of young men stormed the building.


    Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said he was "outraged by the mob attack," and that he would ask the UN Security Council to condemn it unanimously.


    The violence spilled over to other embassies, including that of Croatia, and triggered widespread vandalising of shops and banks.


    The rally had been backed by the Serbian government which refuses to accept the independence of the former province many Serbs see as their spiritual heartland.


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    More than 80 people were admitted to hospital after the violence, about half of them police and two journalists from France and the Netherlands, local media reported.


    Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Belgrade, said: "There is a great feeling among the crowd that America has treated Serbia very unfairly.


    "The US... Britain, France and Italy are perceived by the people here as having ganged up on Serbia and bullied their way into establishing an independent Kosovo," he said.


    Our correspondent added that there were indications that the Serbian police "were not terribly firm in stopping the attack" on the US embassy.


    US jeered


    Protesters also set light to cars and
    attacked shops and businesses [AFP]
    Earlier, Vojislav Kostunica, the country's prime minister, had told the crowd: "Is there any other nation on Earth from whom [Western powers] are demanding that they give up their identity, to give up our brothers in Kosovo?


    "Nobody in Serbia will ever have the right to agree to that."


    Many of the demonstrators waved Serbian flags, while some carried signs reading "Stop USA terror".


    One group of protesters set fire to a red-and-black Albanian flag - most of Kosovo's population is ethnic Albanian.


    "We will not rest until Kosovo is again under Serbia's control," Tomislav Nikolic, leader of the nationalist Radical party, told the crowd.


    Protesters booed and jeered at every mention of the United States and the European Union as Nikolic accused them of being responsible for the "theft" of Kosovo.


    Rocks thrown

    Thousands of Serb protesters massed outside
    parliament in Belgrade [AFP]

    Earlier on Thursday at Merdare, a Kosovo border checkpoint, Serbian reservists threw rocks and burned tyres to create a smoke screen before surging past.


    UN police said the demonstrators, arrived from the Serbian town of Kursumlija in buses and brought a bulldozer.


    They are believed to be army veterans who fought on the Serbian side in Kosovo's 1998 to 1999 war.


    Riot police with shields and batons erected a large steel barrier across the road in an attempt to keep them from pushing deeper into Kosovo.


    The demonstrators, who chanted "Kosovo is ours! Kosovo is Serbia!", later dispersed and crossed back into Serbia.


    Nations have been divided in their reaction to Serbia's independence.


    Venezuela joined the group of countries who say they will not recognise the move.


    Hugo Chavez, the country's president, said the decision smacked of US interference and set a "dangerous precedent".


    "This cannot be accepted, it is a truly dangerous precedent for the whole world and could also be the start of I don't know how many wars," he said.


    More than a dozen nations, including the US, Britain, France and Germany, have recognised Kosovo's declaration of independence, however.


    But the declaration has been rejected by Serbia's government and ethnic Serbians who populate northern Kosovo.


    Russia, China and a number of other nations have also condemned the move, saying it sets a precedent that separatist groups around the world will seek to emulate.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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