Serb protests over Kosovo continue for sixth day

Serbia vows to hunt Kosovo rioters, Feb. 23, 2008
Serbia has said it is hunting for participants in the Belgrade riots that targeted the US and other embassies, as protests over Kosovo's independence continue into their sixth day.

Pieter Feith, the European Union's envoy in Kosovo, appealed to Serbs for co-operation on Saturday, as Serb demonstrators gathered in the Kosovo town of Mitrovica.

UN police in riot gear continued to patrol the town - concerned that tensions between ethnic Albanians and Serbs could turn violent.

Feith confirmed his mission had moved its staff from the Serb stronghold of north Mitrovica.

Mobs stormed the US embassy in Belgrade, Serbia's capital, on Thursday, after hundreds of Serbs burned down two border posts in north Kosovo in response to its declaration of independence.

Slobodan Radovanovic, Serbia's chief state prosecutor, said on Saturday that the authorities were searching for those responsible.

"We are collecting evidence and are identifying the culprits," Radovanovic said in a statement.

Police said they had arrested nearly 200 rioters on the night of the disturbances, the worst anti-Western violence seen on Belgrade's streets since the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serb leader, in 2000.

Embassies attacked

Rioters protesting international recognition of Kosovo's independence set fire to several offices of the US embassy and attacked the missions of Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Croatia and a number of other countries.

"We are intensively engaged with a large number of personnel [in finding] the culprits and expect the work to be completed soon," said Radovanovic.

More than 150 were injured and nearly 100 stores were looted in the riots.

One person died. The dead man was identified by the authorities on Saturday as 21-year-old Zoran Vujovic, from the northern city of Novi Sad.

Serbian media said Vujovic was originally from the Kosovo town of Caglavica, but fled to central Serbia in the wake of the 1998-99 war.


On Friday, the US ordered nonessential embassy staff and families of diplomats to leave Belgrade.

"We are not sufficiently confident that they are safe here," Cameron Munter, the US ambassador, said in an interview.

Current plans call for them to remain abroad for seven to 10 days, the embassy said.

The US and EU have warned Serbia to boost protection of foreign diplomats and missions, and the UN Security Council has unanimously condemned the attacks.

But some Serb ministers condemn the US and other nations that have recognised the independence of Kosovo, which Serbs consider to be their historical heartland.

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

Russia too has criticised those who would recongnise Kosovo's independence and some of those protesting in Mitrovica held up pictures of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

An aide to Putin on Saturday described Western recognition of Kosovo as a loaded gun waiting to go off, the Interfax news agency reported.

"With Kosovo now the gun has been cocked and no one knows when and where the shot will ring out," said Anatoly Safonov in an interview with the Russian news agency.

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