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US Furious Over Belgrade Embassy Attack

The United States has formally protested to Serbia's government over inadequate security at the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, which was attacked and partly burned by demonstrators Thursday. The State Department says Serbian anger over Kosovo independence is no excuse for the attack and anti-U.S. incitement in Serbia. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

State Department officials say they're still trying to piece together the precise circumstances of the attack. But they say it is clear that the Serbian security presence around the embassy was completely inadequate, despite the fact that thousands demonstrators angry over U.S. recognition of Kosovo independence were in the area.

At a news briefing late Thursday, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said authorities deployed enough police to turn back the crowd only after the embassy had been breached, and after Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns had warned Serbian Prime Minister Voyislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic that they would be held personally accountable if the attack continued.

"The message was very clear, that the situation was intolerable, that they needed to act immediately to provide adequate security forces so that our embassy compound and our personnel were not under attack," said Sean McCormack. "He made it very clear to the foreign minister that we would hold the Serbian government personally responsible for the safety and well-being of our embassy employees."

McCormack said Burns, acting on the orders of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told the Serbian officials there could be no repeat of the situation in the future and was so assured by Mr. Kostunica.

The spokesman said the penetration of the embassy and associated fire damage was limited to a reception area, and that secure areas and classified materials were not compromised.

In the expectation of the Kosovo demonstration, U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter closed the embassy at mid-day Thursday and only a few security personnel and other staffers were in the building at the time of the attack.

There were no known casualties among U.S. personnel though Serbian fire officials reported finding a burned body on the embassy grounds, possibly that of a protester.

Serbia has been bitterly critical of the decision by the United States and key European allies Monday to recognize Kosovo independence.

The majority ethnic-Albanian former Serb province had been run by the United Nations since 1999 and the Bush administration held that internationally-supervised independence, as called for last year by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, was the only viable solution for the troubled region.

McCormack said the United States realized it is a difficult issue for Serbia but that it is not an excuse for incitement to violence, which he said some political figures in Belgrade have engaged in.

"There cannot be an incitement to violence," he said. "We are interested in a political dialogue with the Serbian government. The European Union is interested in a political dialogue with the Serbian government. It is very clear there are differences with respect to the action that we took to recognize Kosovo and the action that others have taken to recognize Kosovo. We can talk about that. But none of that, none of those disagreements are an excuse or justification to incite others to violence."

Serbia withdrew its ambassador from Washington earlier this week. McCormack said while the U.S. embassy will close for a few days, ambassador Munter will remain in Belgrade and there is no intention on the U.S. side to downgrade relations over Thursday's events.