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Protesters set fire to U.S. embassy in Belgrade

Scores of protesters broke into the U.S. embassy in Belgrade on Thursday and set rooms on fire in protest at Kosovo's independence, before riot police moved in and dispersed the crowd.

Police had earlier been nowhere to be seen at the building which had been closed and boarded up after rioters stoned it earlier in the week.

Protesters gather in front of the Serbian government building during a mass protest rally against Kosovo's declaration of independence in Belgrade, February 21, 2008. (REUTERS/Nikola Solic)

Black smoke billowed out of the embassy. Papers and chairs were thrown out of the windows, with doors wedged in the window frames and burning.

One protester climbed up to the first floor of the building, ripped the Stars and Stripes off its pole and briefly put up a Serbian flag in its place.

Some protesters jumped up and down on the embassy balcony, holding up a Serbian flag as the crowd below of about 1,000 people cheered them on, shouting "Serbia, Serbia".

Some 200 riot police finally arrived about half an hour later, beating and arresting some of the rioters and driving the rest away. Some protesters sat on the ground, bleeding.

The storming of the building came during a state-backed rally to protest at Kosovo's secession on Sunday attended by some 200,000 people, which was largely peaceful.

While the embassy was attacked, the main rally proceeded as planned with a march to the city's biggest Orthodox cathedral for a prayer service, just several hundred metres away.

State television switched between scenes of the rioting and the choral singing of the church service.

It said the Croatian embassy had also been attacked and the state news agency Tanjug said the Bosnian and Turkish embassies were also being vandalised.

The rioters at the U.S. mission were mainly young men, some of whom wore balaclavas and scarves to hide their faces.

They had attacked the building with sticks and metal bars and destroyed two guard boxes outside.

Protesters ripped some metal grilles from the embassy windows and also tore a handrail off the building's entrance and used it as a battering ram against the main door.

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