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17 Feb, 2008 10:29

Kosovo MPs meet to declare independence

Kosovo's parliament is meeting ahead of what's shaping as a historic announcement of independence. Ethnic Albanians have been celebrating in Pristina's streets ahead of the announcement, while locals Serbs fear an outbreak of violence.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said the special parliamentary session is the start of a historial moment.

“Now it is time for us to take the decision to put our country among the free and independent countries. I asked the speaker of parliament to convene an extraordinary session to discuss the agenda to approve the declaration of independence and the national symbols of Kosovo,” he said.

Flags, t-shirts, firecrackers and balloons went on sale everywhere, and cars haven't stopped blaring their hooters since Friday.

Meanwhile, the Serbian government says it has a special action plan in response to the expected independence declaration of Kosovo.

Petr Iskanderov, a Balkan expert from Institute of Slavonic studies in Moscow, expects a strong reaction from Serbia if Kosovo makes a unilateral declaration of independence.

“The Serbian government has already come up with a plan but it will only be announced once Kosovo declares independence. Everything now depends on the Kosovan Albanians since they could be very tempted to take under control the whole of Kosovo, including the Serbian territories. If that happens and clashes between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs break out in Kosovo, it's possible that Serbia will involve its military or send in volunteers,” Iskanderov said.

Russia has warned that an independence vote will only encourage other separatist movements.

The chairman of Russia's State Duma International Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, says Russia will raise the issue at the United Nations Security Council, and is ready to use its veto.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow confirms that any change in the international presence in Kosovo needs a new decision from the Security Council. And that would be possible only with the approval of Belgrade and Pristina.