The alliance scrambled to recover from its worst own goal of the Kosovo conflict. "The bombing of the Chinese embassy was a deeply regrettable mistake," said Javier Solana, Nato Secretary-General. The error may have serious consequences for the diplomatic effort that had been slowly moving in the direction of a solution.
At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, China accused Nato of war crimes. Russia, like China a permanent member of the council, said Nato was guilty of "barbaric and unconscionable" actions, and Boris Yeltsin issued a scathing statement. "The destruction of a foreign embassy is not only an act of vandalism but a further flagrant violation of international law," Russia's President said. He ordered his Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, to cancel a trip to Britain which had been due to begin yesterday.
Spokesmen for Nato admitted it had attacked the Chinese embassy in the mistaken belief that it was a Yugoslav supply department. The error points towards a serious failure of intelligence, unlike earlier mis-hits when the alliance has blamed faulty munitions.
In Peking, an enraged crowd of up to 1,000 massed outside the British embassy, chanting "English pigs" and "English dogs", and holding placards reading "Overthrow the imperialist running dogs" and "We don't forgive your crimes". Police and soldiers ringed the iron-fenced compound as the demonstrators hurled bricks and debris. Outside the nearby US embassy compound, a bigger crowd surged against the police cordon, breaking through at one point to smash four cars and burning American flags.
The last time such anti-Western wrath was vented on such a scale was during the Cultural Revolution, when the British embassy was sacked and burnt down by Red Guards.
Such scenes have not been witnessed in Peking since the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement. Despite busloads of police and paramilitary soldiers, and half-hearted attempts to hold back the crowds from the embassy area, the authorities appeared to have neither the inclination nor the expertise to marshal the irate protesters.
Nato said there would be no pause in the bombing. "The determination and solidarity amongst the Nato nations is the same today as it was yesterday," Mr Solana said. But he expressed concern that diplomacy might stall. "I hope the energy and momentum that was created around the G8 meeting will continue," he added.
The Russian mediator, Viktor Chernomyrdin, arrived in Bonn yesterday, and is due to visit Belgrade again in the next few days. But any solution would require agreement of the full UN Security Council.
British government sources acknowledge that it would now be more difficult to reach agreement for a UN Security Council resolution. "A mistake has been made and obviously there is diplomatic reaction to that," Tony Blair's official spokesman said. "We continue to build all the diplomatic bridges that we can." In an attempt to shore up flagging support for the air strikes, Mr Blair plans to visit Albania and Bulgaria next week, following his trip to Macedonia last week.
The bombing of the embassy came in the heaviest night of raids on Belgrade so far. Bombs and missiles hit the Hotel Yugoslavia, where the paramilitary and indicted war criminal Arkan has a casino, two military headquarters and a command bunker which is thought to be the nerve centre of the Serbs' war effort.Reuse content