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Excited Celebrations in Kosovo on Eve of Independence Declaration

  • VOA News

People in Pristina, Kosovo's capital, have already begun celebrating independence, on the eve of their lawmakers' formal declaration that the ethnic-Albanian-majority province is breaking away from Serbia.

Blaring car horns and crackling firecrackers resounded throughout Pristina, whose streets were crowded late Saturday with thousands of people waving red-and-black Albanian flags. Some also displayed American, British and German flags - a gesture of thanks for what is seen as Western support for Kosovo's independence.

The province's prime minister, Hashim Thaci, says Sunday will be a peaceful but historic day in Kosovo.

Authorities in Pristina say Mr. Thaci will call Kosovo's assembly into session Sunday to declare at about 1400 UTC / 3 p.m. local that Kosovo is independent.

President Vojislav Kostunica of Serbia, which bitterly opposes Kosovo's secession, will address his nation an hour after the independence declaration.

The European Union gave its final approval Saturday for a security force , which it calls a civilian peace and justice mission, to keep the peace and safeguard human rights in Kosovo after the the departure of the U.N. team that has administered Kosovo since 1999, when NATO airstrikes halted a Serbian crackdown on the province's ethnic Albanians..

UN observers say no violence is expected Sunday, although feelings are running high on the independence question throughout Kosovo, in Serbia and in other Balkan states.

Kosovo's Serb minority - fewer than 120 thousand of the province's two million people - are preparing to barricade their enclaves, and their leaders say they will not recognize any declarations by the Pristina assembly.

Across Serbia Saturday, nationalists staged protests denouncing Kosovo's independence declaration.

Russia, also a bitter opponent of Kosovo's independence movement, says it will call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council as soon as lawmakers in Pristina formalize their action.

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