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Kosovo Parliament Declares Independence From Serbia

Kosovar politicians declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, Feb. 17. Ten years after Belgrade crushed a rebellion in Kosovo, parliamentarians proclaimed the Republic of Kosovo and sovereign state.

A Kosovar Albanian man holds an Albanian flag on his roof-top over the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, Kosovo as he celebrates

Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are hugely in favor of independence of Serbia

The parliament in Kosovo voted in favor of independence from Serbia, bringing the curtain down on a long chapter in the violent break-up of Yugoslavia.

"From today onwards, Kosovo is proud, independent and free," said Prime Minister Hashim Thaci. "We never lost faith in the dream that one day we would stand among the free nations of the world, and today we do."

Kosovo will be a "society that respects human dignity" and be committed to dealing with the "painful legacy of the recent past, in a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness," Thaci added.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci addresses the members of the Parliament as the members of his government applaud during a special session of the Parliament in Pristina

All the members of parliament present approved independence for Kosovo

All 109 deputies present at the session in the capital Pristina voted in favor with a show of hands. Eleven deputies from ethnic minorities, including Serbs, were absent. The parliament also approved a new flag for the landlocked state of about 2 million people.

"Today, a new life begins," the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore wrote. "The past should not be forgotten, but it belongs to the past, and should be forgiven."

Serbia calls declaration illegal

While the United States and several European Union members are quickly expected to recognize the new state, Serbia is infuriated by the move and has been given strong support by Russia, which called on the UN and NATO to annul Kosovo's independence.

Quickly after the deceleration, Moscow called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss Kosovo. Diplomats in New York said the Council would hold an emergency meeting on Sunday.

"The decisions by the Kosovo leadership create the risk of an escalation of tension and inter-ethnic violence in the province and of new conflict in the Balkans," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Serbia's President Boris Tadic said his country would never recognize the independence of Kosovo.

"The state of Serbia will take responsible moves and will do everything in its power to annul this arbitrary and illegally proclaimed the independence of Kosovo," Tadic said in a statement. "Serbia will not resort to violence and that is the only approach which can enable us to continue our legitimate fight to preserve the integrity of our country."

In a televised address, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica called Kosovo a "false state" supported unlawfully by the United States, which he said was "ready to violate the international order for its own military interests."

Kosovo police had to stop several hundred former Serbian army reservists -- veterans of the 1998-99 Kosovo war -- from crossing into the territory ahead of the independence declaration.

EU mission welcomed in Pristina

Students dance with the Albanian flag

Celebrations have already begun in Kosovo

Earlier, Thaci said he would also welcome the law-implementing mission prepared by the European Union to help Kosovo along its first sovereign steps. After Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Montenegro, Kosovo is the sixth nation to emerge from the former Yugoslav federation since 1991.

The independence proclamation started a 120-day transition period and the deployment of some 2,000 European Union police and judicial officials to aid Kosovo in the transition to independence.

Tens of thousands of Albanians, a 90 percent majority in Kosovo, began celebrating in capital Pristina ahead of the declaration.

Flags of Albania, the United States and Western European countries were on display and waved everywhere, as police closed the central streets to traffic, allowing only pedestrians in.

Some of the people carried signs calling for a "celebration with dignity."

While Albanians started celebrating already Saturday night, the Serbs in their enclaves remained calm even if wary. Their spiritual leader, the Orthodox Bishop Artemije, dismissed the imminent declaration of independence, but denounced violence.

"We are not calling anybody to a war," Artemije said after a prayer in the Serb enclave Gracanica, near the Kosovo capital Pristina. "Kosovo will always remain Serbian and we regard this so- called declaration as occupation."

Serbia slams EU mission

A man paints a slogan reading 'Thank You Germany' below an image of the German flag, on a wall in Gnjilane, Kosovo

Kosovars painted thanks to Germany and other nations expected to recognize it

Serbian Infrastructure Minister Velimir Ilic, on a visit to Gracanica, blasted the EU over its support for Kosovo's independence.

"It is shame and disgrace what EU is doing, helping dismember Serbia," he said, referring to EU's upcoming mission.

Serbia has already suspended its already cumbersome approach to EU membership over the mission, which it has fought diplomatically as a step to Kosovo's independence, and Ilic signaled more of the same.

"We will never cooperate with the EU mission in Kosovo," he said.

Ilic was just one of more than a dozen Serbian government ministers and high-ranking officials who huddled with the Serbs in their enclaves.

Serbia on Thursday passed a resolution "annulling" the declaration of independence in advance. The document would come into effect with the declaration of independence by the Kosovo authorities.

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