BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Police were firing tear gas at Bosnian Serb rioters Tuesday to prevent them from storming the U.S. consulate after protests against Kosovo's independence.
A small group split from almost 10,000 peaceful protesters and was trying to reach the consulate, breaking windows of shops and throwing stones at police who have blocked streets leading to the building with armored vehicles.
Last week, demonstrators stormed the American embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, in one particularly violent march in which a throng of rioters set part of the complex on fire.
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More than 1,000 Serbs gathered Tuesday to protest Kosovo's independence in ethnically-divided northern town Kosovska Mitrovica.
The protesters held Serbia's blue, white and red flag and banners saying "Kosovo is Serbia." They also staged a mock soccer game against EU nations that have recognized Kosovo's independence. Officials said no incidents were reported.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanian deputy prime minister, Hajredin Kuqi, urged Serbia to ease the ethnic tensions and stop provoking Kosovo's authorities, a day after 19 policemen were injured in a violent protest by Serbs at an eastern border crossing with Serbia.
"We ask the Serbian government to have a different approach to Kosovo's future and to build good relationships with Kosovo and not provoke or raise the tension," Kuqi told The Associated Press.
Kuqi said Kosovo's authorities would "be understanding" toward peaceful protests, but warned against demonstrations turning violent.
Serbs have staged protests in Kosovo every day since the territory's ethnic Albanian leadership declared independence from Serbia on Feb. 17. Rioters have thrown stones and bottles at the local police and NATO peacekeepers during some of the protests.
On Monday, 19 Kosovo policemen were injured when rocks and bottles were thrown at them by more than 100 Serb protesters. Kosovo authorities fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, before calling NATO peacekeepers to bring the situation under control.
Some 16,000 peacekeepers serve in the NATO-led mission that is in charge of securing Kosovo's borders.
Kosovo's independence was swiftly recognized by the U.S. and major European powers. Some EU nations, however, have criticized the move, while Russia has come out strongly in support of Serbia's opposition to Kosovo becoming independent.
Some 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo ignoring Kosovo's independence and threatening to set up their own institutions in Kosovo's northern areas, where most Serbs live.
The vast majority of Kosovo's population is ethnic Albanian. Serbs represent just 10 percent of the region's 2 million people, but they view Kosovo as the cradle of their culture and Orthodox Christian faith.