Prayers, Protests as Kosovo Marks Its First Full Week of Independence

Kosovo marked its first full week of independence with prayers and protests Sunday as outraged Serbs staged demonstrations in the new nation's tense north and across Europe.

Refusing to let Kosovo secede from Serbia without a fight, up to 1,000 protesters gathered briefly in the ethnically divided northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica in a seventh day of demonstrations denouncing Kosovo's independence.

They listened to a rock concert by a Belgrade band playing on a stage decorated with a poster of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a sign reading: "Russia Help!" Moscow supports Serbia's resistance and has declared Kosovo's independence illegal.

Serbs also organized anti-independence rallies Sunday in other European capitals.

In central Vienna, about 5,000 protesters waved pro-Serbia banners, and a few burned, spit or stomped on American flags before some demonstrators fanned out across the city, throwing bottles as riot police pursued them.

In Geneva, 3,000 people massed outside U.N. offices, and in Brussels, several hundred Serbs gathered outside EU offices to chant "Kosovo is Serbia," and held placards reading "Ask any lawyer" and "Don't legalize it."

Sunday's protest in Mitrovica was peaceful, and the smallest of daily rallies held there for a week — a stark difference from the rioting that broke out Thursday in Belgrade, where demonstrators stormed the U.S. Embassy and set part of it ablaze.

Cameron Munter, the U.S. ambassador to Serbia, warned leaders in Belgrade on Sunday to prevent future violence against diplomatic missions. "I'm very angry at what happened. It had better not happen again," he told The Associated Press in an interview.

In Kosovo's ethnic Albanian-dominated capital, Pristina, the curious gathered around a sculpture spelling out "NEWBORN" in giant yellow letters and covered in graffiti scribbled by revelers after lawmakers proclaimed independence on Feb. 17. "We love you Kosovo!" someone signed in English.

"We celebrate this important day with historic responsibility and a very satisfying result bringing huge recognition from the entire world for an independent Kosovo," Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said Sunday while visiting the grave of the late pacifist President Ibrahim Rugova, revered among ethnic Albanians for his drive for statehood.

Thaci, a former guerrilla leader of the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army in the 1998-99 war with Serbian troops, which claimed 10,000 lives, reached out anew to Kosovo's Serbian minority.

"I will be beside them to help them to integrate in Kosovo's democratic institutions, to integrate in the democratic society of our country," Thaci said. "They, as citizens of this country, should be comfortable with this new reality since Kosovo is a homeland to all its citizens and all the rights of minorities will be respected."

But in Belgrade, fury over Kosovo's declaration of independence showed no signs of abating.

Branislav Ristivojevic, an adviser to nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said the only way to ease tensions in the Balkans would be for the United States, "which has produced the crisis," to convene an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council and "reaffirm" Kosovo as part of Serbian territory.

Serbs view Kosovo as the heart of their homeland and their Serbian Orthodox faith, and have refused to let it go despite formal recognition from the U.S., key European nations and other countries worldwide.

In the Serb enclave of Gracanica just outside Pristina, locals said Sunday they felt abandoned by the Serbian government and were fearful of reprisal attacks by the ethnic Albanians who surround their village.

"We are afraid. Every night that we lie in bed we don't know in the morning what is going to happen," said Jovanka Petrovic, among Sunday worshippers at Gracanica's sole Orthodox church. "We are afraid to go to sleep. We are not free."

"There is no more Serbia. We have lost everything," added Ana Ivanovic, another worshipper.

But ethnic Albanians exulted in their independence and held out hope that the unrest and uncertainty would subside.

"People are still celebrating," said Artan Dedushaj. "It's only been a week and I think it's too early to see any changes in our new country. People keep celebrating every night, but this is something that all Albanians have waited centuries for — and changes will come soon."