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NATO rushes troops to Kosovo

Kosovo (Serbia)
Unrest, Conflicts and War

(CNN) -- NATO will send peacekeeping reinforcements to the Balkans in hopes of quelling a mass wave of violence that has killed at least 22 people and left 500 wounded.

At least 55 soldiers with the NATO-led peacekeeping mission KFOR and 61 police officers are among the wounded, the U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) said in a written statement.

A spokeswoman for Kosovo's prime minister said the reinforcements will number about 1,000 and will include 500 British troops, 150 British and U.S. troops from neighboring Bosnia, and up to 300 other troops.

The worst spate of ethnic clashes since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999 broke out early Wednesday after the drowning of three Albanian children.

U.N. officials said the children were being chased by Serbs and drowned in a river that separates the two communities in Mitrovica.

Soon riots started in many parts of the majority-Albanian province. KFOR soldiers and police sprayed tear gas, set up roadblocks, and established a curfew, but were unable to bring the situation under control in many areas.

"We had attacks on every single ethnic Serb enclave yesterday," Serb government minister Aleksandr Popovic told CNN Thursday.

"What you had yesterday was not an isolated incident. ... You had orchestrated attacks."

Popovic said there may be many deaths that have not yet been tallied.

Kosovo -- in the country of Serbia and Montenegro, the former Yugoslavia -- has been under U.N. administration since the war ended in 1999. NATO is responsible for peacekeeping efforts and protecting the minority Serbs.

But Popovic said the latest violence shows "the international community couldn't do its job. ... This system doesn't work. That's obvious."

Appealing for much greater assistance, he warned that without dramatic change "we'll finally have the complete Kosovo with the Serbs absolutely wiped out from every single city and every single village."

A spokeswoman for Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said the government held three "extraordinary" meetings Thursday and called on citizens of Kosovo to clear the streets and stop the protests immediately.

The prime minister's office said further violence "would put a question mark on the future of Kosovo."

In Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and Montenegro, Serbs demonstrated for their kin in Kosovo. Some gathered outside the Albanian embassy.

Serb Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, Serb cabinet ministers, and leaders of opposition parties stopped by the main cathedral in Belgrade, lit candles for victims, and prayed.

Kostunica called for a demonstration at noon Friday in Belgrade. Schools and offices will close for 45 minutes, as citizens take to the streets in support of a peaceful solution in Kosovo, he said.

In Nis Thursday, demonstrations turned violent. Some Serbs set fire to a mosque and wrote, in graffiti, "This is for Kosovo."

The top U.N. envoy in Kosovo called the wave of clashes "the worst possible violence since UNMIK and KFOR came here five years ago."

"We are deeply shocked, saddened and disturbed by these events and call for an immediate halt to all violence and protests, some of which are on going today," said Harri Holkeri, U.N. special representative to the region, in a statement issued Thursday from the capital, Pristina.

"Let no one be mistaken. This violence is destroying Kosovo's future. For every day that the violence goes on, Kosovo loses valuable friends," he warned.

"The whole world is watching how the people of Kosovo behave with each other and with the international community five years after the international community, at great expense, intervened to stop the violence."

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said, "This violence is a major setback for all parties concerned in Kosovo. But it is also a setback for the political process and the discussions between Pristina and Belgrade that helped to lead to a resolution to all the major issues still outstanding.

"So the Alliance deplores this violence. The Alliance calls on all parties to restore order."

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters the Bush administration called "on all groups to end the violence and refrain from violence."

The State Department also repeated its call to stop the violence.

"The escalating violence threatens the process of democratization and reconciliation in Kosovo and must end," said Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli in a statement.

Large-scale demonstrations in Belgrade Thursday against the violence prompted the United States to close its embassy there, Ereli said.

Demonstrations on Wednesday resulted in damage to the embassy. Ereli said Serbian policy have been proving extra security to the embassy, which is expected to re-open on Friday.

Former NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark led the intervention in the Balkans aimed at end the war. The former Democratic presidential candidate said Thursday that he hopes the latest violence "will galvanize the international community into action."

It will take "American diplomatic leadership in Europe" to bring allies together and try to build a solution, he told CNN's American Morning.

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