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Serbs Demonstrate Against Kosovo Independence 


The people of Kosovo have experienced their first day as a self-declared independent state. But as Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest, there have been Serbian demonstrations against the move.

Kosovo's first day as a self-declared independent state, did not pass smoothly. From Brussels to the Balkans there were sharp divisions over whether to agree with the breakaway of what many still regard as a province of Serbia.

In the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica and other enclaves, thousands of minority Serbs protested Kosovo's independence. The demonstrations followed overnight riots in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, where protesters clashed with riot police trying to defend buildings of the United States and Slovenian embassies.

Hundreds of protesters rallied outside the US Embassy in Belgrade. Others broke windows at McDonald's restaurants and at the embassy of Slovenia, the country that currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency. Protesters also threw rocks and fireworks at the police during the riots, in which dozens of people were injured.

The violence broke out shortly after Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica strongly condemned the United States and other European Union countries for their willingness to recognize Kosovo.

"It is the European Union who should be ashamed, not Serbia. Serbia will keep its head high and will not give in to attacks. The president of the United States, who is responsible for this, and European leaders who have followed him in recognizing Kosovo's independence will be Serbia's enemies," he said.

Russia and some other European countries also criticized Sunday's endorsement of a declaration of independence by Kosovo's parliament. They have warned of similar moves elsewhere from ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia or Romania and pro-Russian regions in Georgia, to the Basque area in Spain.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his country will not recognize Kosovo's independence.

"The Spanish government will not recognize a unilateral decision made yesterday by the Kosovar parliament. And it would not do it, since we do not think international law was respected," he said.

Yet some EU nations, such as Britain, disagree. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters that Europe should accept the birth of a new state.

"I think it is very important that we recognize that all of the countries of the Western Balkans are European countries," said Miliband. "And therefore it is critical that Europe shows real leadership."

On the streets of Kosovo's capital Pristina, Kosovo Albanians say they hope the rest of the world will share their joy over independence.

"I think it is exciting, because we were waiting for a long time for this day to come. And we will see what will happen. We wait for the first recognition," said a young man.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told his parliament that the move towards independence is in line with United Nations plans.

"Kosovo has taken a historic decision. It proclaims its independence in accordance with the proposal of [former Finish President and U.N. Envoy] Martti Ahtisaari," said Mr. Thaci.

International forces and administrators have been in Kosovo since 1999 when NATO forced Serb troops to end their crackdown on the independence seeking ethnic-Albanian majority.

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