War In The Balkans: Embassies under siege as Chinese take to streets

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS OF angry Chinese demonstrators threw lumps of concrete and paint bombs at the US and British embassies in Peking for a second successive night as the American ambassador said the authorities could lose control of events.

In Europe diplomatic efforts were restarted to find a solution to the Kosovo crisis. But in Peking the American ambassador was a prisoner in his own embassy. "No question that we're hostages here," ambassador James Sasser said in a telephone interview from the embassy compound, under siege since fury erupted over the bombing of the Chinese mission in Belgrade on Friday.

"I think this demonstration is now exceeding government expectations and there's always the danger that it's going to go out of control," Mr Sasser told NBC's Meet the Press, with the din of the protest clearly audible in the background.

Outside, riot police formed defensive cordons to stop crowds of Chinese students and civilians from storming the embassy buildings. But they made no effort to halt the stone-throwing, and loud cheers went up each time a window was smashed or a paint bomb splattered on target.

Hours earlier China's Vice-President, Hu Jintao, declared on television that the government "firmly supported" protests that kept within the limits of the law. The reaction "fully reflected" the sense of national outrage at the "atrocity" of the embassy attack.

"Bombing the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia is equivalent to bombing us here in Peking," declared a young Chinese woman standing outside the British embassy. For a second day groups of students were organised to march past the British and US embassies, hurling abuse as well as stones. Swastikas featured on many banners, depicting President Bill Clinton with a Hitler moustache. At their height the demonstrators numbered tens of thousands.

There were few signs that the diplomatic crisis was easing. Sources in Peking said President Jiang Zemin had refused to take telephone calls from Mr Clinton, trying to offer a personal apology for the bombing, in which four people were killed. The White House said later the President had now apologised in writing.

Despite Nato's contrition and embarrassment, it vowed to keep up the twin-track policy of bombing and diplomacy. On Saturday, allied planes carried out a fresh wave of strikes, aimed primarily against communications targets across Yugoslavia and at Serb military units in Kosovo. "Nobody would thank us if we were blown off-course by one mistake," said Nato spokesman Jamie Shea.

However, to Nato's further embarrassment, it emerged last night that a bomb damaged the Greek consulate in the Serbian city of Nis during Saturday's attacks. According to the town's mayor the consulate's windows were shattered and its roof damaged in an attack on a nearby bridge over the Nisava river. Nato refused to comment.

On the diplomatic front, the Russian envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, plans to hold more face-to-face talks with Mr Milosevic, after a meeting in Moscow with the US deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, scheduled for mid-week.

Mr Chernomyrdin said yesterday that there had been "new, very serious developments" over a settlement, and that he would be going to Belgrade with "concrete proposals". In New York, Western and Russian officials are expected to start work on drafting a UN resolution for a settlement.

Two of the Yugoslav leader's main political opponents came out against any peace agreement that would leave him in power, boosting Western determination to keep the pressure on Mr Milosevic. If the Serbian president remained, "the tragedy and the violence will continue", the Montenegro President, Milo Djukanovic, and Zoran Djindjic, leader of Serbia's opposition Democrat Party, said in a joint statement. "If anything good can be extracted from the evil now among us, it is the chance for a total reversal and a new beginning for Yugoslavia."

But those sentiments meant nothing on the streets of Peking. Several British diplomats planned to spend the night in their own embassy, where many windows were broken, and the Union flag had been knocked against a tree.

Across the street, frightened Albanian diplomats and their families cowered inside their own compound. A bonfire was burning on the pavement outside, after Chinese youths had jumped over a wall and thrown stones through windows.

In the south-western city of Chengdu, the residence of the US consul- general was badly damaged by fire on Saturday night. Anti-US protests also swept through Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xian and other cities yesterday.