Kosovo to declare independence tomorrow
Kosovo will declare independence tomorrow amid growing excitement among its ethnic Albanians, anger from its Serbs, and the launch of an EU mission to help oversee the transition.
'Tomorrow will be a day of calm, of understanding and of state engagements for the implementation of the will of the citizens of Kosovo,' Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said today in reference to the breakaway ethnic Albanian majority.
Expectations of a Sunday declaration of independence have been running high for several days - but Mr Thaci's comments marked the first top-level confirmation that the long-awaited break with Serbia would come this weekend.
Within an hour of the Prime Minister's speech, convoys of vehicles drove through the streets of Pristina, cheerfully honking their horns and waving Albanian, British, German, NATO and US flags.
Serbia, which sees Kosovo as the cradle of Serb culture and religion, and Russia, Belgrade's main ally on the world stage, has vowed never to recognise an independent Kosovo.
Independence is expected to be declared at around 3pm (2pm local time) tomorrow. Street parties and fireworks will follow.
The European Union has launched a 2,000-member police and judicial mission to help facilitate Kosovo's transition to independence, even as the bloc's 27 members remain split on how to recognise the new state.
In the days after independence is declared, the EU Kosovo mission will begin a 120-day countdown to taking over policing duties from a United Nations mission, which will depart after its 10-year administration.
Dutchman Pieter Feith will be the EU civilian administrator in Kosovo and is expected to take over from United Nations supremo Joachim Ruecker in June.
EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on Monday to try to draw up a common platform in response to Kosovo's expected independence - one which does not include the notion of the bloc as a whole recognising the new state.
EU leaders committed in December to help with a settlement on Kosovo's final status, including economic and political assistance and by offering Kosovo the prospect of EU membership some time in the distant future.
But some countries will refuse, at least in the short term, to recognise the new state, including Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
Opponents to independence fear it could serve as a precedent for other separatist groups in Europe, as well as undermine Balkan security which remains fragile after the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.