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Police beat protesters in Kosovo

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Serb forces pressed their campaign against separatist rebels Sunday in the Kosovo countryside, while police swinging clubs beat protesters at an independence rally in the provincial capital.

At least six ethnic Albanians were injured when more than 100 police broke up the demonstration in Pristina, which had largely escaped the violence that has convulsed the secessionist province of Serbia in recent months.Meanwhile, Serb forces reportedly continued shelling suspected militant positions in western Kosovo as part of a stepped-up campaign that has left at least 50 people dead and 200 missing since late May, according to ethnic Albanian officials.

The violence has sent thousands of refugees fleeing ruined villages, some to neighboring nations, and has aroused alarm among Western powers that a war is in the making that could spread to other Balkan states.

Ethnic Albanians comprise 90 percent of the 2.2 million inhabitants of Kosovo, and most demand to secede from Serbia, which along with Montenegro makes up Yugoslavia. Western powers oppose any change of borders, but want the Serbs to cease their offensive and give Kosovo the autonomy taken away by Serbia in 1989.

President Clinton spoke to British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Sunday and they agreed to send a "strong message" that the Serb offensive is unacceptable, a Blair aide said.

The United States and others plan deliberations this week on what steps to take. British newspapers said the powers might discuss military intervention.

The relative peace in Pristina was shattered Sunday when police charged the approximately 1,000 protesters gathered for the 57th consecutive daily rally against the Serbs' violent rule in Kosovo.

One protester could be seen bleeding in the street after he was hit in the head by a policeman's gun butt and then kicked repeatedly.

Albanian TV in Tirana reported that the Serbs shelled at least two Kosovo villages Sunday. It also said ethnic Albanian militants blew up the police headquarters in Ratkoc, and amid fierce fighting between the two sides all the Serb residents and police had fled.

It was not known how much of a setback the Serb offensive has dealt the province's clandestine rebels, known as the Kosovo Liberation Army. The militants claim to control about 40 percent of the southern province of Serbia.

The rebels, who are winning increasing support among Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, appealed in a statement Sunday in the newspaper Koha Ditore for more fighters to join them.

"Come to strengthen our troops against the enemy artillery and enemy infantry," the KLA statement said.

Pope John Paul II called on the world Sunday to act against violence and repression in Kosovo.