Kosovo begins independence move - UPTATED - PHOTOSESSION

Kosovo begins independence move - <font color=red>UPTATED - PHOTOSESSION</font>
# 17 February 2008 08:48 (UTC +04:00)
The US and a number of EU countries support the move, which is opposed by Serbia and its ally Russia.
President George W Bush said he was in favour of a UN plan that envisages a supervised independence for Kosovo.
Correspondents say the potential for trouble between Kosovo’s Serbs and ethnic Albanians is enormous.
"We are on the brink of a very crucial moment - an important decision that will make us one of the free nations of the world," Mr Thaci told the media as he read the letter sent to the speaker of parliament, Jakup Krasniqi, to request the special session.
He said the MPs would approve the declaration of independence and would vote on the state symbols.
As the expected day for the proclamation of independence drew closer, scores of drivers took to the streets of Pristina on Saturday, honking their horns.
Strains of Albanian music blared from car stereos as distinctive red and black Albanian flags fluttered in the winter breeze.
Posters have been stuck on the walls of buildings expressing thanks to the US, Britain and the EU for supporting Kosovan independence.
In Belgrade, meanwhile, about 1,000 Serb demonstrators protested against the loss of territory they consider their heartland.
In the flashpoint town of Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, Nato peacekeeping troops have laid concrete and razor-wire barriers to separate Serbs from Albanians.
Lieutenant-General Xavier de Marnhac, the French commander of the Nato peacekeepers, said his troops would react swiftly to any provocation from the Albanian or Serbian side of the divided town.
The BBC’s Nick Thorpe in Mitrovica says local and UN police, as well as the Nato troops, are maintaining a high profile to reassure all the citizens of Kosovo that they have nothing to fear.
On Saturday, the EU approved sending a police and justice mission to Kosovo.
The 2,000-strong mission, known as Eulex, will begin deploying from next week and is expected to take over from the United Nations by early June.
It is tasked with helping to prevent human rights abuses and ensure that Kosovo’s fragile institutions are free from political interference.
Serbia and Russia fiercely oppose Kosovo’s independence and insist the presence of the EU there will be illegal.
Serbia has threatened to use diplomatic and economic measures against Kosovo, though it has ruled out using force.
Russia’s foreign ministry has indicated that Western recognition of an independent Kosovo could have implications for the Georgian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The UN has administered Kosovo since a Nato bombing campaign in 1999 drove out Serb forces.
A UN plan for Kosovo drawn up by special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, an experienced Finnish diplomat and politician, would give Kosovo independence - but with limits, and under international supervision.
It would open the way for Kosovo to join the UN and have its own flag and national anthem - but it would prevent Kosovo from amalgamating with Albania, or having its Serb areas split off and be part of Serbia.
Faced with a veto threat from Russia, the UN Security Council has failed to endorse the blueprint.

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