Serb minister blames U.S. for embassy riots
Reuters & APBELGRADE -- The United States was to blame for this week’s attacks on foreign embassies in Belgrade, Serbia’s minister for Kosovo said Saturday, citing Washington’s support for Kosovo’s secession from Serbia.
February 24, 2008, 12:00 am TWN
Mobs stormed the U.S. embassy Thursday and set it on fire and other diplomatic missions were stoned after a mostly peaceful mass protests against the former Serbian province’s declaration of independence.
The attacks, which Serb officials blamed on “isolated vandals”, were beamed across the world and condemned by the United Nations.
“The U.S. is the major culprit for all troubles since Feb. 17,” Slobodan Samardzic told the state news agency Tanjug, referring to the date when Serbia’s Albanian-majority southern province declared independence.
“The root of violence is the violation of international law. The Serbian government will continue to call on the U.S. to take responsibility for violating international law and taking away a piece of territory from Serbia,” he said.
The State Department has said family members and non-core personnel from the Belgrade mission will be relocated until security improves.
The ambassador and essential staff will stay, and the mission will re-open early next week, after repairs to the facade and parts of the embassy damaged by the fire.
Meanwhile, several thousand Serbs chanting “Russia, Vladimir Putin!” and “Kosovo is Serbia!” protested peacefully Saturday in the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica and a Serb enclave in the south in a sixth day of demonstrations against Kosovo’s independence.
In a sign that Serbia is fast drifting away from the West and toward Russia, which is backing its fierce resistance of Kosovo’s secession, hard-line Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica condemned anew the U.S. and other nations that have recognized Kosovo as an independent state.
“If the United States stick to its present position that the fake state of Kosovo exists ... all responsibility in the future will be on the United States,” Kostunica adviser Branislav Ristivojevic said in a statement.
First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s chosen successor and the man expected to easily win Russia’s presidential election March 2, is scheduled to visit Belgrade on Monday.
In Kosovoska Mitrovica, long a flash point of ethnic tensions in Kosovo’s troubled north, U.N. police in riot gear formed a cordon across the main bridge separating the Serb and ethnic Albanian sides as a few protesters hurled firecrackers. Demonstrators waved Serbian and Russian flags and chanted in support of Moscow’s refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence.
A NATO helicopter hovered above the bridge to monitor the protest.
On Friday, angry demonstrators hurled stones, glass bottles and firecrackers at U.N. forces protecting the bridge. Saturday’s protest was far less violent.