U.S. crit­i­cizes sen­tences in fire

North Bay Nugget - - 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.

Ser­bian na­tion­al­ists op­posed to Kosovo’s in­de­pen­dence are seen set­ting fire to the U.S. Em­bassy in Bel­grade, Ser­bia, on Feb. 21, 2008.

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