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Page last updated at 19:08 GMT, Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Kosovo riots 'were orchestrated'

Pedestrians walk past a Nato military vehicle in Mitrovica (AP)
Nato peacekeepers have taken up positions around Mitrovica

A senior UN official in Kosovo has strongly criticised Serbia for failing to prevent the trouble which led to the death of a Ukrainian policeman.

Ihor Kinal, 25, was fatally wounded on Monday by shrapnel from a hand grenade.

Deputy head of mission Larry Rossin told reporters that some of the comments from Serbia's Kosovo minister in Mitrovica were "objectionable".

He also said: "It is clear to us that the violence... was orchestrated. We believe we know who was responsible".

The trouble broke out when UN police wrested control of a courthouse in the divided town from Kosovo Serbs who had seized it days earlier.

We are very sad. The Kosovo institutions and government send condolences to the family and to his country
Hashim Thaci
Kosovo Prime Minister

More than 130 people were hurt in the trouble that followed, both protesters and international forces.

Rocks, hand grenades and petrol bombs were hurled at UN officers and Nato troops fired back.

Nato's K-For force maintains it fired only in the air.

The UN official said he had asked Serbian minister Slobodan Samardzic to use his influence so that the international forces would not have to remove the protesters by force.

But, he said, nothing had happened.

"We've never had what we would consider a clear and unambiguous denunciation of this kind of violence from the ministers," he said.

Regular protests

There have been regular protests in Mitrovica since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia last month but Monday's trouble was the worst so far.

UN deputy head Larry Rossin (left) and UN police commissioner Larry Wilson
Larry Wilson (right) said murder charges would be brought

Police commissioner Larry Wilson told a news conference that, because of the gunfire that erupted after the UN moved in, emergency services had been unable to reach the Ukrainian officer and he had bled to death.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told reporters in Pristina: "We are very sad. The Kosovo institutions and government send condolences to the family and to his country."

Although tensions were high in Mitrovica on Tuesday, Nato peacekeepers were in control of the main flashpoints in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the previous day's violence.

French soldiers fired a stun grenade when Serbs began throwing stones. The protesters were described as high-school students.

Bridges over the Ibar river that divides the Serb north from the ethnic Albanian south were closed.

'Lethal means'

The UN says 41 policemen are still being treated for their injuries.

Eleven French officers have been flown home for treatment. Ukrainians and Poles are also among the wounded.

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Doctors say a Serb demonstrator who was shot in the head is in a coma, fighting for his life.

Officials in Belgrade have accused the UN and Nato of using excessive force against demonstrators. Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin also suggested there had been a lack of restraint.

But Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik appealed to Serbia and Kosovo Serb leaders to do more to quell the violence.

"It's up to Belgrade and the Kosovo Serb leaders to calm the residents of northern Kosovo," she said.

"Nobody questions the right to peaceful demonstrations, but the use of force against Unmik police and K-For is unjustifiable."

On Tuesday, Japan became the latest country to recognise Kosovo's independence, joining the United States and a majority of countries in the European Union.




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Nato peacekeeping force on patrol in Mitrovica



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