Serbia on verge of isolation over Kosovo after riots

23rd February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Belgrade was quiet Saturday after a week of riots which culminated with the ransacking of Western embassies, which claimed one life and again brought Serbia to the verge of international isolation.

Belgrade -- Charred remains found in the torched United States embassy following the riots on Thursday were of a student, aged 20, from Novi Sad. The ransacking and looting was apparently conducted by young people, male and female, in their twenties and even teens.

The violence exploded on the margin of a large rally, organized by Serbia's leading parties in protest at Kosovo's declaration of independence and the support it received from the West.

The attacks on US, German, Belgian, Turkish, Canadian, Slovenia, Croatian, Bosnian and British diplomatic missions on Thursday were preceded by similar violence almost daily since Pristina announced a unilateral split from Serbian rule.

Amid what was seen as slow and meek police reaction, Slovenia provisionally closed its embassy in Belgrade, while the US evacuated a part of its diplomatic personnel.

Several countries, including Germany, the Netherlands and the EU- presiding Slovenia issued advisories against travel to Serbia, while Berlin also suspended the issuing of visas to Serbs.

For its part, Serbia has withdrawn for consultations its ambassadors to all countries, which recognized Kosovo, including the US and leading West European countries.

Serbian nationalists, including Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's camp, appealed against violence and destruction, but did not explicitly condemn the "hooligans," as the local media described rioting mobs.

It remained unclear whether more violence was in store, but it was a distinct possibility as protests against Kosovo's independence were to continue, along with calls on Serbs to boycott Western businesses.

McDonald's restaurants in Belgrade were repeatedly damaged over the past week, while brand name stores such as Nike and Benetton, were thoroughly looted on Thursday.

Serbia has drawn sharp protests from the US, United Nations and Europe for its failure to defend the embassies. Some local observers, however, estimate that a part of the Serbian leadership had actually counted on the violence and its aftermath.

"With the charred body in the US embassy, Kostunica is sending a message that charred bodies will be found everywhere where he finds something he doesn't like," the opposition Vojvodina Social Democrats leader Nenad Canak told the daily Blic.

Kostunica has been particularly fervent in his criticism of Washington, which he regularly describes as a law-breaking "bully" intending to amputate Kosovo from Serbia chasing its own interest.

He has also frozen Serbia's already cumbersome progress toward EU membership over the mission Brussels is sending to help the breakaway province's first sovereign steps.

"The riots in Belgrade were organized to instill fear into anybody with a different opinion," said Ivan Andric, an official of the Liberal-democratic Party (LDP).

People like Canak and LDP leaders, as well as the few journalists who question Serbia's Kosovo policy and the new collision course with the West, are ranked high on the lists of "traitors" which the "patriots" compile, sometimes with violence as a consequence.

DPA with Expatica

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