A Serb nationalist wearing a traditional cap faces a U.S. soldier serving in Kosovo Force, as NATO peacekeeping forces temporarily closed the checkpoint at Jarinje, on the border between Serbia and Kosovo, Friday.AP Photo
KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Kosovo — Violent protests rocked Serb-dominated northern Kosovo on Friday, as mobs chanting “Kosovo is ours!” hurled stones, bottles and firecrackers at U.N. police guarding a bridge that divides Serbs from ethnic Albanians.
The scenes evoked memories of the carnage unleashed by former Serb autocrat Slobodan Milosevic the last time Kosovo tried to break away from Serbia, which considers the territory its ancestral homeland.
There were disturbing signs that the riots in Belgrade, Serbia, and in Mitrovica have the blessing of nationalists in the Serbian government, which hopes to somehow undo the loss of the beloved province.
Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica’s authorities have repeatedly vowed to reclaim the land, despite U.S. and other Western recognition of Kosovo’s statehood. Some hard-line government ministers have praised the violent protests as “legitimate” — and in line with government policies of retaining control over Serb-populated areas.
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.”
Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leaders declared independence from Serbia on Sunday. The province, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, has not been under Serbia’s control since 1999, when NATO launched air strikes to halt a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. A U.N. mission has governed Kosovo since.