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Daily Archives: February 19, 2008

Serbia rocked by Kosovo independence

by David Vujanovic

Serbia united yesterday against Kosovo's independence ahead of more protests after furious mobs attacked embassies of the US and EU, which are poised to recognise the world's newest state.
As President Boris Tadic travelled to attend a session of the UN Security Council, Serbia's parliament was scheduled to meet to "annul" Sunday's independence declaration by Kosovo's assembly.
"The parliament of Serbia should … annul illegal acts by interim Kosovo authorities to unilaterally proclaim independence," Tanjug news agency reported, adding the session would be held at 4:00 pm (23:00 Macau).
Tadic met late Sunday with nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Tomislav Nikolic of the opposition Radical Party, the parliament's strongest grouping, agreeing to work together in defence of Kosovo.
They called for "dignity," but violence flared across Serbia with angry protestors stoning the Belgrade embassies of the United States and Slovenia, the current president of the European Union.
Washington and Brussels encouraged leaders of Kosovo's Albanian majority to unilaterally declare independence, after UN talks on its status ended in deadlock.
The move was condemned by Serbia and its traditional Slavic ally Russia, which called for a solution agreeable to both sides.
Soon after leaders of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority said they were breaking away from Serbia, protestors clashed with riot police as they roved around Belgrade in an hours-long rampage.
Chanting "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia," the mobs smashed windows of two McDonald's restaurants and the US embassy before police used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to disperse them.
At least 50 people including 20 police were injured.
In the ethnically divided northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica, meanwhile, four grenades were thrown at buildings housing the UN and the EU missions, said police, but only one exploded and there were no reported injuries.
In the south of Serbia, members of the Kosovo Police Service stopped several hundred former army reservists dressed in military uniforms from crossing into the province ahead of the declaration.
Speaking on national television as the violence rumbled on, Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic urged the protestors to calm down, saying they should be aware the world could see the "chaos" as a "civil war."
More protests are to be held across the Balkan region yesterday, including in Belgrade, the Kosovo towns of Mitrovica, Gracanica and Strpce, and Banja Luka, the main town in the Serb-run Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska.
The Belgrade government and many Serbs consider Kosovo, which has dozens of centuries-old Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries, as their historic heartland.
Leaders say their bid to block Kosovo's independence before the UN Security Council would be followed by unspecified diplomatic measures against countries that recognise Kosovo's independence.
Harsh retaliatory moves have been ruled out, after one member of the government said a possible measure would be to recall its ambassadors for consultations.
"Serbia has reacted and will react with all peaceful, diplomatic and legal means to annul this act committed by Kosovo's institutions," President Tadic said before flying to New York.
Belgrade newspapers slammed the Kosovo independence declaration as an attempt at seizing Serbian land.
"Kosovo grabbed away!" screamed the front page of the independent daily Blic. "Fake state," read the front-page of the high-circulation daily Vecernje Novosti.
The influential Politika newspaper said in an editorial that Kosovo's independence was a "triumph for Albanians" and "defeat for Serbia."
"The ethnic Albanian triumph is the triumph of Western interventionists and our defeat is the defeat of the principle that international law protects both big and small states," it said.


Serbia files criminal charges against Kosovo leaders: official

Serbia's police filed criminal charges against Kosovo Albanian leaders for "organising the proclamation of a phoney state on Serbian territory," the interior ministry said yesterday.
The charges were laid against Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and parliament speaker Jakup Krasniqi, the ministry said in a statement received here.
By proclaiming the independence of Kosovo on Sunday, the three had "committed a serious criminal act against the constitutional order and security of Serbia," the statement said.
The charges would be followed by an investigation headed by both police and state prosecutors, it added.
The ministry said that, according to the constitution, the "territory of Serbia is united and undividable, while the borders of Serbia are untouchable and can be changed exclusively in accordance with the moves to change the constitution."
In November, Serbia proclaimed a new constitution, which defined the province of Kosovo as an "integral" part of the former Yugoslav republic.
During the 1998-1999 Kosovo war, Thaci, now 39, was one of the leaders of ethnic Albanian separatist guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army that fought Serbian forces.
In July 1997, a Serbian court sentenced Thaci to 10 years imprisonment in absentia for criminal acts of terrorism, notably a 1993 attack on a police patrol, before issuing an international warrant for his arrest the next year.
He was briefly arrested at Budapest airport under an international warrant issued by Belgrade in June 2003.
However, by this stage he was a major political player and was freed after the intervention of United Nations mission in Kosovo.
Belgrade bitterly opposes the independence of Kosovo, describing the Western-backed move as a violation of international law, its constitution, the UN Charter and UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
Resolution 1244, adopted at the end of the Kosovo conflict, gave the territory "substantial autonomy" under Serbian sovereignty and put in place the UN mission and NATO-led peacekeepers.