Rift widens in Serbian government after deadly riots

Other News Materials 22 February 2008 20:46 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa)  -  A deep rift in the Serbian government coalition was exposed again Friday when Serbian President Boris Tadic condemned violent riots on the margin of a protest which Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said was a "magnificent rally" just hours earlier.

Tadic has condemned the violence, looting and arson that occurred Thursday evening, on the margins of a massive protest against Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia and Western support for it.

"There is no excuse for violence, nobody may with a single word try justifying what has happened yesterday," said the pro-European Tadic.

One person was killed during the ransacking and torching of the United States embassy. The charred remains found in the smouldering compound were not identified by Friday afternoon.

Also attacked on Thursday were the diplomatic missions of Croatia, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Belgium and Bosnia, as well as businesses and stores from countries the mob regarded as hostile to Serbia.

The looting brought the political aspect of the riots into question.

Tadic said he has called the National Security Council - the highest defence body grouping the president, prime minister, assembly speaker, defence and interior ministers and heads of security and intelligence services - to meet urgently to discuss the situation.

"It was not Serbia and Serbia will not be like that," he said. "Law and order must rule and the violence which has happened in Belgrade must never again be repeated."

Just a few hours earlier, however, Kostunica said that the Serbian people on Thursday "showed what they think" of Kosovo's break from Serbia and of the Western countries supporting the break.

Tadic's pro-European Democratic Party and Kostunica's increasingly anti-Western Democratic Party of Serbia are in a coalition which has strained close to breaking point amid the different directions they are pulling in regard to European integration and Kosovo.

"In a magnificent gathering and a prayer, the people of Serbia showed what they think of Kosovo and what they think of the brutal violence conducted against it," he said in a statement handed to local media.

He was referring to the support and recognition extended by the US and their Western allies to Kosovo, which has declared independence on Sunday.

"Most of all Serbia's youth has sent a message that Serbia is for law, justice and freedom and that it rejects the bullying policy of Western countries," Kostunica said.

He only glancingly mentioned the ransacking of the embassies, and then only in the context that it was damaging Serbia's interests.

"A big misfortune happened, a human life has been lost," Kostunica said. "Our opposition to bullying must be in our interest ... violence and destruction directly damage our national interests."

In the view of the increasingly radical Kostunica, "all supporters of the false state Kosovo are happy when they see violence in Belgrade."

The US government charged Thursday that Serbia failed to provide adequate security and said it would hold Serbian leaders "personally responsible" if Americans were harmed.

The United Nations Security Council sharply condemned the attacks "in the strongest terms" and reminded Serbia of the "fundamental principle of inviolability of diplomatic missions."

Also condemning the violence were the European Union in Brussels and the German government.

Serbian police provided no protection for the US and other embassies when the mob launched its attack, but appeared later to disperse it by using batons and teargas. Some 190 people were detained in connection with the riots.

No demonstrations were scheduled in Belgrade on Friday. Earlier a tense stand-off between international forces and Serbs in their enclave of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo passed without clashes.