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Mobs attack embassies in Macedonia

Macedonian police officers try to stop protesters entering the parliament building in Skopje  

TETOVO, Macedonia (CNN) -- Macedonia's capital Skopje was quiet early on Wednesday, hours after hundreds of rioters rampaged through the streets, smashing windows at embassies and torching vehicles.

The protests prompted the United States to place a rapid reaction force in Macedonia on alert and saw security beefed up at the U.S. Embassy, while the British and German embassies were attacked. Many of the rioters were from the village of Lesok who had been driven from their homes by rebel gunmen. They claimed that NATO and KFOR peacekeeping forces have been collaborating with Albanian rebels.

The unrest began outside the parliament building but soon swelled out of control.

The crowd moved to the centre of the city, breaking windows at the building that houses the German and British embassies. A spokesman with the British Foreign Office told CNN that stones were thrown through several windows but no embassy personnel were injured.

CNN's Juliette Terzieff describes what she saw in the streets of Skopje (July 24)

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Protesters also smashed windows at a McDonald's fast food restaurant and burned vehicles belonging to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Witnesses said the U.S. Embassy also was targeted. Embassy officials told CNN that about 50 protesters threw rocks outside the building but did not do any damage.

A U.S. State Department official said the embassy would be closed Wednesday and added that a travel warning has been issued for all Americans in Macedonia.

U.S. readies reaction force

The Pentagon said Tuesday that a quick reaction force of U.S. army troops was "on alert" at the airport in Skopje.

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The troops had been told to be ready, "just in case" by U.S. Ambassador Michael Einik, but there had been no call to deploy the troops, a Pentagon spokesman said. The spokesman declined to give the size of the quick reaction force, but said the U.S. maintains a healthy force protection capability.

Einik and James Pardew, the U.S. special advisor on the Balkans, were not at the embassy at the time of the demonstration and are safe, the official said. No one at the embassy was injured or ever in danger, the official said

U.S. officials have been in touch with Macedonian authorities in connection with the incident, the official said.

The United States has about 500 troops based in Macedonia to provide logistical support to U.S. peacekeepers in neighboring Kosovo.

Most are at Camp Able Sentry, a secure area at the airport in Skopje.

Macedonian conflict escalated

The Macedonian conflict escalated late on Tuesday with new heavy fighting in the second city of Tetovo.

Smoke billows over the northern part of Tetovo following clashes on Monday  

Journalist Juliette Terzieff told CNN that tanks, machine guns and small arms were being used in clashes putting the fragile cease-fire under serious threat. International observers warned the situation could spin out of control.

Ethnic Albanian rebels attacked an army barracks and clashed with troops on Tuesday, as the defence ministry said that the rebels were advancing and had surrounded four nearby villages.

A government spokesman blasted NATO and international forces, saying they are working with the rebels.

"NATO is a friend of our enemies," spokesman Antonio Milosovski said. He said United State envoy James Pardew and his European Union counterpart, Francois Leotard, are giving "direct support" to the National Liberation Army, an ethnic Albanian force.

Rebels in control of village

The Social Democratic Union, the other main Macedonian political party of the ruling coalition, issued a statement expressing its concern with ongoing fighting.

It said cease-fire terms had been broken and called on the international community to protect the civilian population of Tetovo, a village now largely under rebel control.

The statement said that until the violence stopped, the political dialogue could not continue. Ethnic Albanian rebels controlled three areas within Tetovo: the northeast section, the northwest section and a neighbourhood in the centre of the city.

The rebels set up large, sandbagged checkpoints with 40 armed men, who had machine guns and grenades. The rebels forced Macedonians in the town to leave.

There has also been fighting near the border with Kosovo.

International aid organisations said several hundred Macedonian civilians are trapped by the fighting.

The Macedonian government has threatened to launch a full-scale offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army, (NLA) unless they withdrew from around Tetovo.

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