By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Belgrade
For two hours the streets of Belgrade were not the place to be.
US embassy staff had gone home before the rioters struck
Gangs of marauding youths, many with their faces covered, smashed windows, turned over cars and attacked passers-by. For a time the police were nowhere to be seen.
The massive, peaceful demonstration outside the Serbian Parliament to oppose Kosovo's independence had moved off towards Saint Sava's Cathedral for a special church service for Kosovo.
But a few thousand moved away from the main column and headed to the embassy district, attacking Western businesses along the way.
The United States embassy, the prime target, was stormed and set on fire. Again, the police were nowhere to be seen.
Red and orange flares lit up the night sky. One protester hauled the American flag down from a balcony above the main entrance.
The British, German, Croatian, Turkish embassies were also attacked with rocks and bottles. A car was overturned and torched.
Eventually, special police units in vehicles surged up the main street, pushing back the rioters. Tear gas and baton charges cleared the street for a time. Thick, black smoke billowed into the night sky from the many fires the protesters had lit.
The special church service continued in quiet dignity, as the mobs rampaged a few streets away.
The huge demonstration by about 200,000 people outside the parliament showed the strength of feeling in Serbia about Kosovo's independence.
There is anger and frustration among the people and a sense of powerlessness about what to do now. The outburst of violence from the minority showed how that anger can boil over.
The Serbian Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic, condemned the violence, describing it as "totally unacceptable". But other politicians were slow to condemn it. And important questions remain as to why the police were so slow to respond to the violence, when it was highly predictable.
At least 200 people were injured in the night's violence. And Serbia's relations with other countries have been damaged. The repercussions of Kosovo's declaration of independence continue to unfold.
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