U.S. crit­i­cizes sen­tences in fire

Kingston Whig-Standard - - WORLD NEWS - JO­VANA GEC

BEL­GRADE, Ser­bia — A Ser­bian court on Tues­day is­sued sus­pended prison sen­tences for four sus­pects and ac­quit­ted three oth­ers who were tried in the 2008 torch­ing of the U.S. Em­bassy in Bel­grade af­ter a rally against Kosovo’s dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence.

The U.S. Em­bassy crit­i­cized the rul­ing, say­ing “it is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand how it has taken nine years to reach the ver­dict in this case ... with the fi­nal re­sult that none of the seven de­fen­dants, four of whom ad­mit­ted in the pres­ence of coun­sel to par­tic­i­pat­ing in a se­ri­ous of­fence, was sen­tenced to serve time in jail.”

One per­son died in the 2008 ri­ot­ing when the Amer­i­can and other western em­bassies were at­tacked by groups of na­tion­al­ists and soc­cer hooli­gans an­gry over what they per­ceived as western sup­port for Kosovo’s state­hood. Sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple stormed the Amer­i­can Em­bassy and set part of it on fire be­fore po­lice ap­peared and pushed the crowds away from the scene.

The in­ci­dent has bur­dened re­la­tions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Bel­grade for years. U.S. of­fi­cials have in­sisted that sus­pects be held re­spon­si­ble but no one has so far been im­pris­oned for the torch­ing.

Tues­day’s rul­ing at Bel­grade’s Higher Court comes af­ter years of wait­ing. A re­trial was or­dered af­ter an ap­peals court last year over­turned ini­tial verdicts for the sus­pects.

Ser­bia’s prose­cu­tors sep­a­rately brought charges against five po­lice of­fi­cials in con­nec­tion with the ri­ot­ing, but that trial has not started yet.

The Balkan coun­try has re­fused to rec­og­nize the in­de­pen­dence of Kosovo, an eth­nic Al­ba­nian­dom­i­nated for­mer prov­ince, which split from Ser­bia nearly ten years af­ter a war that ended with the NATO bom­bard­ment of the coun­try in 1999.

The U.S. Em­bassy said in a state­ment that the 2008 riots led to nearly half a mil­lion dol­lars in dam­age.

The court said on Tues­day that four sus­pects were guilty of com­mit­ting a “grave act against pub­lic se­cu­rity” by throw­ing rocks and break­ing win­dows at the em­bassy build­ing, af­ter which torches were thrown inside start­ing the fire. It sen­tenced the four to sus­pended six- and five-month prison terms.

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