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Europe

International Community Divided Over Recognition of Kosovo

The divisions over Kosovo's independence, clearly seen in the different reactions on the streets of Pristina and Belgrade, are forcing members of the international community to choose sides.

Kosovars hold the new national flag as they celebrate Kosovo's declaration of independence

Kosovo is born, but not everyone is rushing to celebrate the birth

While the street sweepers of Belgrade and Pristina had very similar tasks on the morning of Monday, Feb. 18, it was the differences of their clean-up operations which summed up the feelings not only of their country folk but those of the international community at large.

In Kosovo's capital, the detritus of celebration littered the streets as the sun rose on the country's first full day of self-declared independence from Serbia. Tens of thousands of people celebrated long into the night in central Pristina on Sunday in recognition of the Kosovo parliament's formal vote to break from Serbia, a move that completed the conflict-strewn breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

However, as the first rays of light settled on Belgrade, the night's events in the Serbian capital told a different story.

The rubble, broken glass and spent tear gas canisters spoke volumes about the Serbian response: Riots in protest against Kosovo's declaration had swept through the streets for several hours, with the wrath of the crowd focused on the symbols of those they perceived as helping tear Serbian's heartland province away.


Police officers carry an injured colleague in front of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia

The streets of Belgrade erupted in violence

Riot police battled hundreds of youths with batons after the baying mob had smashed two McDonald's restaurants and attacked the US and Slovenian embassies with stones. Hospital officials said at least 50 people, including 20 policemen, were injured during the rioting, but none seriously.

Earlier, in the south of Serbia, members of the Kosovo police service stopped several hundred former Serbian army reservists dressed in military uniforms from crossing into the province ahead of the declaration.

International reactions reflect divide

Away from the streets, the international community soon began positioning itself in the two camps of "for" and "against." The trickle of responses began early, with those opposing the move striking quickly.

Serbian President, Boris Tadic

Serbia's reaction would be peaceful but forceful said Tadic

Serbia's President Boris Tadic attempted to calm fears of escalating violence by speaking diplomatically, but the message was clear: Serbia would not recognize this new Kosovo and would work to stop its independence in its tracks.

"Serbia has reacted and will react with all peaceful, diplomatic and legal means to annul this act committed by Kosovo's institutions," he said.

Serbia's main ally, Russia, soon threw its considerable weight behind Tadic's message by calling a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the issue late Sunday, but failed to secure backing for its call to declare Kosovo's declaration "null and void."

China expressed concern about the effects Kosovo's declaration would have on peace in the Balkans, urging the two governments to work out their problems through dialogue.

"Kosovo's unilateral act can produce a series of results that will lead to seriously negative influence on peace and stability in the Balkan region and on the realization of building a multiethnic society in Kosovo, which China is deeply concerned about," Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said.

"China calls on the two sides of Serbia and Kosovo to continue to seek a proper solution through negotiation within the framework of international law, and the international community should create favorable conditions for this," he added.

Concerns over wave of separatist declarations

Sri Lanka, a country with its own problems with separatism, said it was concerned about Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence, as it could set a precedent in other parts of the world and hurt nations.

"The unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo could set an unmanageable precedent in the conduct of international relations, the established global order of sovereign states and could thus pose a grave threat to international peace and security," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "This action by Kosovo is a violation of the Charter of the United Nations, which enshrines the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states."

Sri Lankan forces have been fighting a 25-year insurgency by Tamil separatists, who want an independent homeland in the east and north of the island.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark announced that her country would not recognize an independent Kosovo, saying it was never the government's position to offer diplomatic recognition in such circumstances.

"We neither recognize nor not recognize," she said. "We are not intending to make a formal statement."

Supporters say stability comes from recognition

A man walks past images of the national flags of Turkey, Italy, Holland and USA, on a wall in Gnjilane, Kosovo

Kosovo thanks its supporters but not everyone is in favor

Australia led the early calls of support for independent Kosovo, with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announcing that Australia would recognize the new state.

"The sorry history of Kosovo means that we've got to do whatever we can do to ensure the citizens of that part of the world are protected into the future," Rudd said. "This would appear to be the right course of action. That's why diplomatically we would extend diplomatic recognition at the earliest opportunity."

Taiwan's independence-leaning government echoed Australia's stance.

"Self-determination is a right recognized by the United Nations, and it is the people who are masters of their nation's future," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "In no way should the independence of one nation be denied by another.

"Taiwan is a member of the international community that cherishes democracy and freedom, and the government is delighted that the people of Kosovo have the fruits of independence, democracy and freedom to look forward to," it said.

Western powers biding their time

The United States and the European Union were to make formal statements later in the day, but were both expected to recognize the new Kosovo, despite a split over independence in the EU. Britain, France, Germany and Italy are expected to officially give recognition, but Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Bulgaria have all expressed their opposition.

Slovenia's Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, told reporters that he understood that "many EU member states" would recognize Kosovo's independence.

"Recognition is not a matter for the EU as a whole -- it's member states who will decide," Rupel said said as he arrived for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, adding that there was likely to be "a lively discussion."


"I cannot tell you what we shall conclude at the end, but certainly I expect that we shall continue with this tradition of unity that we have established" with the creation of a new EU justice mission to Kosovo, Rupel said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germany would not make a decision on the recognition of Kosovo yet, as the main priority was for the European Union to act together on Kosovo.

"Germany will not take a decision [on the recognition of Kosovo] today," Merkel told Germany's Foreign Press Association (VAP). "The aim is to have a platform of unity within the EU, on which each member state can act."

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