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Protesters attack US embassy in Belgrade

Latest update : 2008-02-22

Serb protesters broke into and torched the US embassy in Belgrade. An unidentified charred body was found in the premises. The violence drew swift condemnation from Washington and the UN Security Council.

BELGRADE, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Serb rioters enraged by
Kosovo's secession stormed the U.S. embassy in Belgrade and set
it on fire, leaving one person dead and drawing swift
condemnation from Washington and the U.N. Security Council.

The U.S. State Department said the lack of protection for
its mission -- riot police were nowhere to be seen when the
attack began on Thursday -- was intolerable and demanded the
Security Council respond.

"The members of the Security Council condemn in the
strongest terms the mob attacks against embassies in Belgrade,
which have resulted in damage to embassy premises and have
endangered diplomatic personnel," the Security Council said in a
unanimous statement.

Embarrassed, Serbia said it regretted what it called acts of
isolated vandals who did not represent a nation which, while
bitter at Kosovo's declaration of independence on Sunday, did
not want further violence.

"The acts that were committed are absolutely unacceptable,  
absolutely regrettable," Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told
Reuters in an interview. "They hurt Serbia's image abroad."

Germany, Croatia and Britain also said their missions were
vandalised. Local media added Bosnia's and Turkey's to the list.

Some 200,000 people attended the state-backed rally. Jeremic
said police were overwhelmed by what was Serbia's biggest march
since protesters stormed the old Yugoslav parliament building in
2000 to oust nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic.

But just a few score rioters -- many wearing balaclavas --
attacked the U.S. embassy for the second time in a week, forcing
their way in while police were nowhere to be seen.

One man climbed up and ripped the Stars and Stripes off its
pole. Other people jumped up and down on the balcony, holding up
a Serbian flag as the crowd below of about 1,000 people cheered
them on, shouting "Serbia, Serbia".

Smoke billowed out of the embassy. Papers and chairs were
thrown out of the windows, with doors wedged in the window
frames and burning. American officials said only security
personnel were at the embassy at the time, in a different area.



Riot police arrived later and fired teargas to disperse the
crowds. A charred body was later found inside, probably of a
protester; the embassy said its U.S. staff were accounted for
and Marines protecting it had not engaged in any fighting.

Hospital officials said around 150 people were injured in
street clashes, including 30 police and some journalists.

At the United Nations, the statement by the 15-nation
council recalled the inviolability of diplomatic missions but
welcomed steps by Serbian authorities to restore order.

The council has been a battleground over Kosovo, with Russia
refusing to accept Western moves to legitimise the mainly
Albanian region's independence after nine years as a U.N. ward.

Serbia considers Kosovo its historic heartland and waged a
diplomatic campaign against its secession on Sunday.

"As long as we live, Kosovo is Serbia," Prime Minister
Vojislav Kostunica had told the state rally, where Serbs of all
ages listened to speeches and melancholic patriotic songs about
Kosovo, seen as the birthplace of a proud medieval kingdom.

Washington said Kostunica later pledged there would be no
repeat of the attacks, but an analyst said tension would remain.

"Additional acts of what is effectively political vandalism
can be expected," said Jon Levy of the Europe and Eurasia think

The Belgrade rioters also vandalised shops and banks,
especially Western ones, leaving a trail of smashed glass and
debris. There was some looting.

Date created : 2008-02-22