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Kosovo wins recognition from US, European powers

Kosovo wins recognition from US, European powers

The U.S. and major European powers said they will recognize Kosovo, whose ethnic Albanian leaders declared independence from Serbia. Giddy Kosovars danced in the streets.
Kosovo's leaders sent letters to 192 countries seeking formal recognition and Britain, France and Germany endorsed the declaration. But other European Union nations were opposed, including Spain which has battled a violent Basque separatist movement for decades.
U.S. President George W. Bush hailed Kosovo's historic bid for statehood as Washington extended formal recognition to it Monday as "a sovereign and independent state."
As word of the recognition spread, ethnic Albanians poured into the streets of Pristina, the capital, to cheer and dance.
The republic's new flag _ a blue banner with a yellow silhouette of Kosovo and six white stars representing each of the main ethnic groups _ fluttered from homes and offices. But Serb-controlled northern Kosovo was tense, with thousands demonstrating against independence and an explosion damaging a U.N. vehicle. No one was hurt.
By sidestepping the U.N. and appealing directly to the U.S. and other nations for recognition, Kosovo's independence set up a showdown with Serbia _ outraged at the imminent loss of its territory _ and Russia, which warned it would set a dangerous precedent for separatist groups worldwide.
At the United Nations, Serbian President Boris Tadic implored the Security Council, on the second day of its emergency session, to intervene as a last resort to block Kosovo's independence.
"The Republic of Serbia will not resort to force," said Tadic. "On the other hand, this arbitrary decision represents a precedent, which will cause irreparable damage to the international order."
The council's meeting ended after 2 1/2 hours without agreement on a resolution or joint statement regarding Sunday's declaration of independence by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
Kosovo had formally remained a part of Serbia even though it has been administered by the U.N. and NATO since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists, which killed 10,000 people.
Ninety percent of Kosovo's 2 million people are ethnic Albanian _ most of them secular Muslims _ and they see no reason to stay joined to the rest of Christian Orthodox Serbia.
Despite calls for restraint, tensions flared in northern Kosovo, home to most of the territory's 100,000 minority Serbs. An explosion damaged a U.N. vehicle outside the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, where thousands of Serbs demonstrated, chanting "this is Serbia!"
The crowds marched to a bridge spanning a river dividing the town between the ethnic Albanian and Serbian sides. They were confronted by NATO peacekeepers guarding the bridge, but there was no violence.
Another 800 Serbs staged a noisy demonstration in the Serb-dominated enclave of Gracanica outside Pristina, waving Serbian flags and singing patriotic songs.
"Our obligation is to stay in our homes and live as if nothing happened yesterday," protester Goran Arsic said.
In a first sign that Serbia was attempting to retake authority in the north of Kosovo, some Serb policemen started leaving the multiethnic Kosovo police force on Monday and placed themselves under the authority of the Serbian government in Belgrade, a senior Kosovo Serb police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
There were about 320 Serb policemen in the U.N.-established force. The departure of Serb policemen in the force would likely trigger a confrontation with the U.N. administration.
Kosovo is still protected by 16,000 NATO-led peacekeepers, and the alliance boosted its patrols over the weekend in hopes of discouraging violence. International police, meanwhile, deployed to back up local forces in the tense north.
EU nations stood deeply divided over whether to recognize Kosovo as their foreign ministers met in Brussels, Belgium, to try to forge a common stance. At the end of the meeting, the ministers adopted a statement clearing the way for some member nations to endorse independence.
Kosovo's declaration was "a great success for Europe, a great success for the Kosovars and certainly not a defeat for the Serbs," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in Brussels.
Spain, however, said the independence bid was illegal under international law.
On Sunday, Kosovo's lawmakers achieved what a bloody 1998-99 separatist war with Serbian forces could not: They pronounced the disputed province the Republic of Kosovo, and pledged to make it a "democratic, multiethnic state."
The proclamation sent thousands of jubilant ethnic Albanians into the streets overnight, where they waved red-and-black Albanian flags, fired guns and fireworks into the air and danced in the streets.
Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu played down the fears of renewed unrest Monday, saying the government needed to set about the business of building a democratic country.
The 192 letters seeking recognition included one to Serbia. But the Belgrade government made clear it would never accept Kosovo's statehood. Serbia said it would seek to block Kosovo from gaining diplomatic recognition and membership in the U.N. and other international organizations.
Serbia's Interior Ministry filed criminal charges on Monday against the three Kosovo leaders for proclaiming independence _ Sejdiu, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and parliament Speaker Jakup Krasniqi. The charges were only symbolic because Serbia has not had jurisdiction over Kosovo since the 1999 war.
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Associated Press Writer Dusan Stojanovic in Kosovska Mitrovica and Jovana Gec in Belgrade contributed to this report.