tampabay.com

Serbian hard-line leaders blame U.S. for violence

Other Serbian leaders are calling for calm.

Associated Press
Published February 24, 2008


KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Kosovo - Serbia's hard-line leaders on Saturday called the United States "the main culprit" in the violence that has broken out since Kosovo declared independence.

Several thousand Serbs chanting "Kosovo is Serbia!" and "Russia, Vladimir Putin!" protested peacefully in the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica on the sixth day of demonstrations against Kosovo's break with Serbia. Russia backs Serbia's fierce resistance to Kosovo's secession.

On Thursday night, protesters in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, set fire to the U.S. Embassy, angered by Washington's recognition of Kosovo. The United States and the European Union responded by demanding Serbia protect foreign embassies.

"The United States is the main culprit ... for all those violent acts," Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, said in Belgrade.

Other Serbian leaders have called for calm after the riots. But an aide to hard-line Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said any future violence also will be blamed on the United States.

"If the United States sticks 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.

The comments were an indication that Serbia is drifting further from the West and more toward ally Russia.

The vast majority of Kosovo's population is ethnic Albanian, and Serbs represent about 10 percent of the region's 2-million people. Kosovo's minority Serbs have staged protests daily since the territory's ethnic Albanian leadership proclaimed independence on Feb. 17. They have vented their anger by destroying U.N. and NATO property as well.

Rioters in embassy attack sought

Serbia's top state prosecutor said on Saturday that authorities were hunting for the rioters who attacked the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions in Belgrade. "We are collecting evidence and are identifying the culprits," Slobodan Radovanovic said in a statement. The police said they had arrested nearly 200 rioters.

Riot video a hit: Mobile phone footage posted Friday on YouTube.com,titled Kosovo for Sneakers, that shows two young women going from shop to shop with armfuls of looted items, had more than 500,000 hits by Saturday afternoon and triggered dozens of comments on blogs and forums.

Times wires