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Serb protesters attack UN police

UN police clashed with 5,000 Serb demonstrators trying to cross a bridge in the ethnically divided city of Kosovoska Mitrovica, a day after violent riots broke out in Belgrade.

UN police clashed with Serb demonstrators trying to cross a bridge in the ethnically divided city of Kosovoska Mitrovica, a day after violent riots broke out in Belgrade.

UN police face off against angry Serbian protesters Friday in Kosovoska Mitrovica. ((CBC))

The protesters attacked police with stones, glass bottles and firecrackers as they tried to keep the demonstrators — protesting Kosovo's declaration of independence — off the bridge that separates the Serb and ethnic Albanian sides of the city, the Associated Press reported.

The clash followed a rally of around 5,000 Serbs who waved Serbian flags and chanted "Kosovo is ours!"

In Belgrade, the streets were calm Friday as police stood guard at the U.S. and other Western embassies following violent overnight riots that left at least one person dead and nearly 150 injured.

The attacks came after a swarm of rioters had broken away from a massive state-sponsored rally held earlier Thursday attended by up to 200,000 people who also protested recognition of Kosovo's declaration of independence.

In a statement Friday, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica appealed for an end to the violence.

"This directly damages our … national interests. All those who support the fake state of Kosovo are rejoicing at the sight of violence in Belgrade," he said.

Serbian President Boris Tadic called an emergency meeting of the national security council and said the rioting that engulfed the capital must "never happen again."

"I most sharply condemn the violence, looting and arson," Tadic said in a statement. "There is no excuse for the violence. Nobody can justify what happened yesterday."

Shops ransacked

Serbian police said that one person died and more than 150 people were injured in the recent spate of violence. Nearly 200 people were arrested and 90 shops ransacked, police said in a statement.

Early Friday morning, the streets were swept clean of debris, as maintenance crews repaired smashed traffic lights along the main avenues.

"A lot of these shops and stores were targeted by looters last night," said Shiv Sharma, a freelance journalist reporting from Belgrade.

Shop items and broken glass strewn across the street were being cleared away so the morning rush hour could get underway, Sharma told CBC News.

Sharma said the police presence was highly visible on the streets, with many officers surrounding the U.S. Embassy.

Putin calls Kosovo split 'a terrifying precedent'

More than a dozen countries have recognized Kosovo's declaration of independence, which was made on Sunday. They include the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Germany.

Russia, China and Spain have condemned the declaration.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a sharp warning to the West about recognizing Kosovo's independence. He said the decision would have dire consequences.

"In the end, this is a stick with two ends and that other end will come back to knock them on the head someday," he said in a televised statement.

"The Kosovo precedent is a terrifying precedent," he added. "It in essence is breaking open the entire system of international relations that have prevailed not just for decades but for centuries."

In Canada, former prime minister Jean Chrétien said Canada should proceed with caution as it decides whether to recognize Kosovo's independence or not. 

Chrétien, who described the situation as a political powder keg with far-reaching implications, appeared to back the go-slow approach of the Harper government.

"Canada has to be careful because we have people who want to separate from Canada," he said in Ottawa, where he was receiving the Order of Canada.

But in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was time for Serbs to accept that Kosovo is no longer theirs. She also suggested it was time to drop centuries of grievance and sentimentality in the Balkans.

"We believe that the resolution of Kosovo's status will really, finally, let the Balkans begin to put its terrible history behind it," Rice said Friday. "It's time to move forward."

U.S. critical of security

The U.S. Embassy in Belgrade burns after masked attackers broke into the building and set an office on fire. ((Associated Press))

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Freed criticized the Serbian government for not doing enough to protect the U.S. Embassy on Friday when hundreds of rioters torched the building. The fire killed one person, likely a protester.

"I think it was negligent. And whether it was deliberate or simply negligent is something we can't say," Freed said.

"But it was deeply irresponsible because the Serbian government certainly knew that there would be large crowds … It was not a satisfactory situation."

The nearby Croatian Embassy was also attacked, and a residential building next door was damaged by flames. Rocks were pelted at the Canadian Embassy and the missions of Turkey, Bosnia and Belgium were also targeted.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has "strongly advised" Canadians travelling to Serbia "to avoid all demonstrations and political gatherings and to stay away from areas where they might occur, as they may turn violent without warning."

With files from the Associated Press and Canadian Press