Serbian President Calls for Calm in Wake of Kosovo Protests

Serbia's pro-Western president on Friday demanded an end to nationalist rioting over Kosovo's independence after attacks on U.S. and other embassies.

One person died and more than 150 people were injured in the unrest in central Belgrade on Thursday night, police said. Nearly 200 people were arrested and 90 shops ransacked, officials said.

The U.S. ambassador to Serbia has asked the State Department to evacuate nonessential personnel and the families of all American staff at the embassy.

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

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Tadic said he called an emergency meeting of Serbia's National Security Council, the country's top security body, which comprises the president, prime minister, and army and police chiefs.

"Order and peace must prevail in the state," he said. "The violence that took place in Belgrade must never happen again."

In Kosovo, about 5,000 protesters in the Kosovo Serb stronghold of Kosovska Mitrovica threw bottles and stones at U.N. and NATO peacekeepers.

"Kosovo is Serbia and we will never surrender, despite blackmail by the European Union," Serbian government official Dragan Deletic told the crowd.

Earlier Friday, Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica appealed for calm, saying the violence had damaged Serbia's national interests.

The European Union told Serbia it must protect foreign embassies, and warned that the attacks risked harming efforts to bring the Balkan nation closer to the EU.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the embassy's request to evacuate nonessential staff and dependents would likely be approved on Friday.

Rian Harris, spokeswoman for the U.S. mission in Belgrade, said the State Department had authorized the evacuation of dependents. She said the mission would remain closed for repairs, but would reopen on Tuesday.

The unrest by Serbs angry over international recognition of Kosovo's declaration was the first major outburst of anti-Western sentiment in Serbia since former strongman Slobodan Milosevic was ousted in 2000.

It exposed a rift within the country's shaky coalition government and raised fears that nationalist anger over Kosovo is bolstering hard-liners who want Serbia to move away from the European Union and closer to its traditional ally Russia.

Kosovo's prime minister denounced the violence as "terrible," and said the rioting harkened back to Milosevic's bloody 1998-99 crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

On Thursday night, rioters broke into the U.S. mission and set fire to offices and to police posts outside before attacking other foreign embassies. A body was found inside the American embassy.

After a state-sponsored demonstration that drew 200,000 people, riot police fought bands of vandals who looted dozens of shops in downtown Belgrade.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said negotiations on an agreement to prepare Serbia for eventual EU membership would have to wait until things "calm down."

The White House also criticized the Serbian government, saying the U.S. Embassy "was attacked by thugs" and police did not do enough to stop it. The U.N. Security Council, too, condemned the attacks on embassies.

"The pictures of yesterday in Belgrade were pictures of Milosevic's time. What we saw were terrible things," Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Pro-Western politicians in Serbia have accused hard-line nationalists in Kostunica's government of inciting the violence.

Tadic's and Kostunica's parties are united in a coalition government — but the two differ sharply on how to handle Kosovo's declaration of independence, with Tadic saying Belgrade must press on with efforts to join the EU regardless and Kostunica seeking to drop the bid over EU nations' recognition of Kosovo.

Rioters also targeted the missions of Croatia, Turkey, Bosnia, Belgium and Canada, officials said. Germany said its mission suffered damage.

In Croatia, dozens of anti-Serbia protesters rallied in Zagreb's main square. More than 40 were briefly detained, authorities said Friday.

Moscow also condemned the violence but said Western nations made a major mistake in recognizing Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence.

Belgrade said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told his Serbian counterpart in a phone conversation that the rioting will "have a negative effect on diplomatic efforts by Serbia and Russia in all international organizations."

More than a dozen nations have recognized Kosovo's declaration but Serbia's government — backed by Russia, China and Spain, among others — has rejected it as illegal.

Kosovo, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, has not been under Belgrade's control since 1999, when NATO launched airstrikes to halt a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

A U.N. mission has governed Kosovo since, with more than 16,000 NATO troops and a multiethnic force policing the province.

Kosovo's declaration had been expected after talks broke down last year over the ethnic Albanian leadership's insistence on full statehood and Belgrade's refusal to relinquish a land Serbs consider the ancient cradle of their state and religion.