Rioting in Belgrade; Grenades thrown in Kosovo

China 'concerned', Australia backs Kosovo split
AFP, Feb. 17, 2008

PARIS (AFP) - Australia on Monday became the lastest nation to welcome Kosovo's declaration of independence, joining the United States and several European powers, despite fierce objections from Serbia and Russia.

But China was among countries unhappy with Kosovo's breakaway from Serbia, declaring it was "deeply concerned" about the future of peace in the region.

"The unilateral approach by Kosovo may cause a series of consequences and lead to severe negative influences on the peace and stability of the Balkan region," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement.

"China expresses deep concern about this."

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said diplomatic recognition of the new state would be offered soon.

"We've already indicated to our diplomatic representatives around the world that this (independence) would be an appropriate course of action," Rudd told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Russia angrily condemned Kosovo's announcement, and called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council late Sunday to discuss the issue.

But it failed to get backing for its call to declare "null and void" the decision by Kosovo's Albanian majority on Sunday to break away.

Russia has been Serbia's strongest backer in opposing Kosovo's independence, which President Vladimir Putin said last week would be "idiotic and illegal."

The United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy have all indicated that their formal recognition will come on Monday.

Those countries around the world with separatist problems however -- from Spain to Sri Lanka -- have expressed concern at Kosovo's split.

The United States and most European nations gave a cautious initial reaction to the independence declaration ahead of a crucial EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday.

But even as the international community called for calm, rioting broke out on the streets of Belgrade, and grenades were thrown at EU and UN buildings in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica late Sunday.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States "calls on all parties to exert utmost restraint and to refrain from any provocative act."

A significant minority in the 27-nation EU -- Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain -- oppose recognising Kosovo. Others like Malta and Portugal would prefer Kosovo's future be decided at the UN Security Council.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus warned that Kosovo's independence could unleash a domino affect in Europe.

"Some parties in other states could realise that they do not feel completely at ease within a big state in which they are now," he said in a television interview.

As if on cue, the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia immediately seized on Kosovo's break, saying they would ask Russia and the UN to recognise their independence, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

"In the near future Abkhazia will appeal to the Russian parliament and the UN Security Council with a request to recognise its independence," self-declared Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh was quoted as saying by Interfax.

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity made a similar appeal.

Some states see Kosovo as setting a dangerous precedent for other separatist movements. Cyprus is already split, with a Turkey-recognised statelet in the north. Spain has long struggled with radical Basque nationalists.

And the Sri Lankan government, which is battling separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, warned Kosovo's declaration could set an "unmanageable precedent" and was a violation of the United Nations charter.

The foreign ministry said it "could set an unmanageable precedent in the conduct of international relations, the established global order of sovereign states and could thus pose a grave threat to international peace and security."

Others are reluctant to recognise Kosovo because of their close ties to Serbia.

Slovakia said Sunday it would not recognise independence for the time being. Romania, which is traditionally close to Serbia, said its opposition was unchanged.

There is also anxiety on Kosovo's borders. Macedonia, which has a significant ethnic Albanian minority, said it was closely watching events.

Government spokesman Ivica Bocevski told AFP: "Whatever decision we are going to take, we will take care of the interests of our citizens, as well as the state and national interests of Macedonia."

Ethnic Albanians account for around 25 percent of Macedonia's two-million population. In 2001, the government and ethnic Albanian rebels waged a brief fight mostly in the northern and western parts of the country.


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