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Serbia: Anti-Nato sentiment strong in 12th anniversary of 78-day war
last update: March 24, 12:42
Belgrade, 24 March (AKI) - Pronounced anti-Nato sentiment hung in the air in Serbia on Thursday during ceremonies to mark the twelfth anniversary of the beginning of air strikes against the country as wreaths were placed to commemorate the some 3,000 victims killed in the 78-day bombing campaign.
Nato launched a bombing campaign against rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) to push Serbian forces out of breakaway the Kosovo province and to stop an exodus of ethnic Albanians fleeing under a Serbian offensive aimed at quelling majority Albanians’ rebellion against Serbian rule.
Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo in June 1999, paving the way for Kosovo independence declared in February 2008.
Twelve years later, animosities still run high against the western military alliance and the ruins of former military headquarters in the center of Belgrade is a ghostly reminder of what here is referred to as a “Nato aggression.”
The event is being commemorated throughout the country which, according to Serbian estimates, suffered material damage of one hundred billion dollars.
After democratic changes in October 2000, the pro-European government has made European Union membership its primary goal, but it has taken a “neutral” stand towards Nato. Recent surveys showed that only 15.1 per cent of Serbian citizens support the country’s joining the military alliance.
The anniversary is marked with round tables, commemorations and anti-Nato protests by some opposition groups. Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas laid wreaths at the memorial of 13 workers killed in the bombing of Belgrade's television broadcasting building in the centre of the city.
Opposition Democratic Party of Serbia of former premier Vojislav Kostunica held a protest in the city’s main pedestrian area, distributing leaflets saying “Never to Nato”.
Visiting Russian prime minister Vldimir Putin told Serbian president Boris Tadic on Wednesday that Russia, Belgrade’s closest ally, had nothing against Serbia’s joining the EU. But he later told Serbian MPs the situation with Nato was different.
“If Serbia joins Nato, Nato will make all the decisions,” Putin was quoted as saying. “If Nato deploys its rocket systems in Serbia, Russia will be forced to direct its nuclear potential towards Serbia,” Putin warned
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