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February 22, 2008

Belgrade Embassy Follow-up

As you know, our embassy in Belgrade was attacked today and set on fire by rioters who were unhinged by U.S. support for Kosovo's independence. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology we were able to watch the event live. The downside of watching it like that was that much of the information passed on by the news channels was incomplete or incorrect.

belgradeembassy.jpg

Here's what happened:

Serb rioters broke into the U.S. Embassy and set fire to an office Thursday, and police clashed with protesters outside after a large demonstration against Kosovo's declaration of independence.

The embassy said a charred body was found in the embassy after the attack. "It was found at the part of the building set on fire by the protesters," embassy spokeswoman Rian Harris said. She said all embassy staffers were accounted for; Belgrade's Pink TV said the body appeared to be that of a rioter.

Masked attackers broke into the U.S. compound, which was closed at the time, just after 7 p.m. and tried to throw furniture from an office. They set fire to the office and flames shot up the side of the building.

After about 45 minutes, police in armored trucks pushed the rioters up the street and firetrucks arrived. It only took a few minutes for word of the body to make it to the media. Things weren't helped when a former U.S. ambassador speculated live on CNN that he "would be surprised if it wasn't a marine defending the embassy." Fortunately that wasn't the case.

The riots started after 150,000 people gathered in protest. They waived Serbia's, Spain's, and Russia's flags. Some yelled "Stop USA terror." It's no surprise that some of them turned to rioting after they started drinking. The U.S.-led NATO bombing is a recent memory, something that the State Department probably realized when they pulled their people out earlier in the week. In addition to our embassy and Croatia's, the protesters burned or looted a McDonald's and a Levi's Jeans store.

This was originally intended to be a peaceful "Kosovo is Serbia" protest. It was rumored that tennis phenom Novak Djokovic would be there. CNN cut between live feed of the riots and an Orthodox service where the official protest was taking place.

Meanwhile, Italy has joined us and most of the rest of Europe in recognizing Kosovo.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 03:10 AM

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