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Belgrade: demonstration against independent Kosovo escalates into riots

Thursday, February 21, 2008

In Serbia's capital Belgrade protesters have broken into the United States embassy, and have set fire to an office, which is now extinguished. The break-in followed massive protests against Kosovo's independence that was declared last Sunday. A couple of hundreds of thousands protested in front of the parliament building in Belgrade when masked attackers broke into the building and tried to throw office-furniture out the windows. Estimations of a number of protesters vary between 150.000 and 2 millions.

Around 18:00, after the relay, a couple hundred rioters went to Kneza Milosa Street where the US embassy is located. At 18:15 they demolished a part of the embassy and burned it. They also attacked the Croatian embassy, which is around 100 meters from the US embassy on the same street. Around 19:00 police came and clashed with the rioters using tear gas. Riots were all over downtown Belgrade. As of 22:00 the situation was under control but there are still some riots in other streets.

The tear gas polluted a couple blocks, about 350 meters up to Vračar hill.

The nearby Croatian embassy was also attacked. Rocks were thrown at the Canadian embassy building. This could be due to the fact that Canada has not said yet if it recognises Kosovo. Embassies of Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, United Kingdom and Germany were also attacked.

One person was found dead at the ground floor of US embassy, around 150 people were injured, including 35 policemen. Around 100 rioters were arrested.

Dirk-Jan Visser, a photo-reporter for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad was attacked by rioters. People helped him escape, and he has been taken into hospital with broken bones. He is expected to be kept in hospital until the next day. Ambulances and medical cars were called to the scene to help injured people and protesters, some cars were attacked.

Andrey Fyodorov and Andrey Pavlov, journalists of Russia Today, were also heavily attacked during the riots.

Two McDonald's restaurants on squares Terazije and Slavija were attacked. The restaurant on Slavija has been heavily damaged. Kiosks, stores and banks were robbed all over the centre of Belgrade. The protesters tried to attack radio/television station B92 but police had the scene under control.

"As long as we live, Kosovo is Serbia," Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told the crowd from a stage in front of the old Yugoslav parliament building in Belgrade, "We're not alone in our fight. President Putin is with us". A huge banner reading "Kosovo is Serbia" draped the front of the building.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called out to the Serbian government to protect the U.S. Embassy. He said the U.S. ambassador was at his home and was in contact with U.S. officials.

The United States was one of the first countries, with the United Kingdom, France and Germany to recognize Kosovo as an independent state. Serbia however regards Kosovo as a province and is backed up in this by Russia, China and numerous other countries, including some European Union member states. Kosovo is 90% ethnic Albanian, with in the north a minority of ethnic Serbians. Belgrade has, however, not been in control over the Kosovo area since 1999, when United Nations took control.

High representative of the Serbian Radical Party, Aleksandar Vucic, said that "those who provoked Serbian people are equally responsible for destruction as rioters are." President of Serbia Boris Tadic and President of the National Assembly Oliver Dulic and other ministers called on peace.


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.

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