European Union officials urged Serbia to do more to protect foreign embassies targeted in angry demonstrations against Western support of Kosovo independence, warning the violence could hurt EU-Serbian ties.
European Union officials on Friday, Feb. 22, deplored an outbreak of violence in Belgrade that saw groups of demonstrators attacking foreign embassies. More than 200,000 people turned out on the streets of the Serbian capital for largely peaceful protests against Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence.
"I strongly condemn the attacks perpetrated yesterday against foreign embassies and economic assets in Belgrade which caused important material damage and put human life in danger," said Olli Rehn, the EU's enlargement commissioner.
"We respect the democratic right of the Serbian people to voice their opinion on developments in Kosovo, but the use of violence for expressing one's opinion is unacceptable," Rehn added.
"Violence hurts Serbia's image abroad"
Over 300 rioters broke into the US embassy and set part of it ablaze on Thursday. The violence killed one person and injured 90. One protestor ripped the American flag from the facade of the building, cheered on by around a thousand demonstrators, some wearing masks to conceal their faces.
Washington has already lodged a high-level complaint with the third highest US diplomat, Nicholas Burns, calling Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic to formally protest the storming of the embassy in Belgrade.
The Serb government was quick to distance itself from the mob attacks, and stressed that they were acts of isolated vandals who in no way represented the nation. The police had been overwhelmed by the scale of the march, he said, which had begun as a state-backed rally.
"The acts that were committed are absolutely unacceptable, absolutely regrettable," Jeremic said. "They hurt Serbia's image abroad."
EU warns violence may hurt ties
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the violence could impact progress on a preliminary deal between Serbia and the European Union.
"Things will have to calm down before we can recuperate a climate that would allow for any contact to move" on the Stabilization and Association Agreement, an accord seen as the first symbolic step towards Serbia joining the 27-nation bloc ,Solana told journalists in Slovenia, where he was attending an informal meeting of EU defense ministers.
"Embassies have to be protected and that is (Serbia's) obligation," Solana said. "These acts (of violence) won't lead anywhere."
Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, in a brief statement overnight, slammed the violence in Belgrade as "totally unacceptable" and appealed for "calm, restraint and responsibility."
Solana welcomed the fact that Serb President Boris Tadic had called for calm on Thursday, but said he was less satisfied with the attitude of other members of the Serb government.
Germany registers protest
Germany, whose embassy was also targeted in the violence, called on the Serbian government to provide adequate security for foreign diplomatic missions.
"If these events are repeated, this would have consequences for the future relationship between Serbian and the European Union," German government spokesman Thomas Steg said.
Steg urged Serbian politicians to "show responsibility" in their public statements on Kosovo's declaration of independence.
Before being called back to Belgrade, the Serbian ambassador in Berlin told Deutsche Welle this week that Serbia would never give up Kosovo.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said the Serbian charge d'affaires had been called in to be handed a formal protest at the violence.
"Pandora's Box" of separatism
Jaeger rejected reported remarks from Moscow that the West had to bear part of the responsibility for the violence.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin's representative to the European Union warned recognition of Kosovo's independence would open "Pandora's Box" of separatism in Europe.
"I warn you that you can't open Pandora's Box," Sergei Yastrzhembsky said.
The EU is in the process of deploying a 1,900-strong policing and justice mission tasked with improving Kosovo's fledgling justice system and advising its authorities on how to run their newly independent state. EU policemen, judges and prosecutors are to be bolstered by 1,100 local staff.
Serbia and its powerful ally Russia say the EU mission violates international law, a claim denied by officials in Brussels.