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Kosovo Albanians mark first year of independence from Serbia


MOSCOW, February 17 (RIA Novosti) - Kosovo Albanians are to hold events to mark the first year of their unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia on Tuesday.

The main ceremony to mark the occasion will take place in the republic's parliament in Pristina and will be attended by Kosovan President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci. Parades and processions will also take place in the capital, Pristina, and other cities.

"We have waited for this day for a very long time," Thaci told a packed parliament at the start of an emergency session on February 17, 2008. A short time later, after the declaration of independence was unanimously approved by a show of hands, Kosovo Albanians took to the streets to celebrate what the world media quickly labeled "the world's newest state."

Both Serbia and its ally Russia reacted angrily to the declaration, with Belgrade saying that "Kosovo will forever remain a part of Serbia." Moscow immediately called for emergency UN Security Council consultations on the issue.

The declaration saw riots in Belgrade, with crowds attacking the U.S. embassy and setting fire to part of it.

Serbian President Boris Tadic recently called the first anniversary of Kosovo's independence, "a date when an illegal act was enacted."

His words were echoed by the Serbian minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, who reaffirmed Belgrade's view that Kosovo is an "indivisible part of Serbia."

While the republic may be set for celebrations on Tuesday, unemployment is around 40% and although there have been no major outbreaks of violence, tensions remain high in and around Kosovo's ethnic Serbian enclaves.

Two bombs went off in Kosovska-Mitrovica, the largest Serbian enclave in Kosovo, in early January, injuring six people. NATO troops and the recently-deployed European Union police (EULEX) have since increased patrols and their presence in the area.

A year on from its announcement of unilateral independence, Kosovo has been recognized by most Western states. However, worldwide, only 54 countries have acknowledged its independence.

While Islam is the overwhelmingly dominant faith among Kosovo Albanians, only one Arab state, the United Arab Emirates, has so far recognized Pristina.

"Kosovo will only be recognized by the Arab world in the event of a fundamental change in the nature of U.S. foreign policy," Vyacheslav Matuzov, the president of the Russian Society for Friendship and Business Cooperation with Palestine, told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.

"Leading political analysts in the Arab world saw the event as an attempt by pro-NATO forces to strengthen NATO's position to the detriment of the Russian Federation. They considered this to be an American-Russian confrontation, rather than an attempt by Orthodox Christians in Serbia... to prevent the creation of a new Islamic state in Europe," he added.

On the Friday before Kosovo made the split from Serbia official, Russia's Foreign Ministry said that any declaration of independence would be "taken into account in [Russia's] relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia," both of which split from Georgia in bloody post-Soviet conflicts and whose residents had enjoyed Russian citizenship for many years.

Russia subsequently stepped up support for the two republics, and recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states two weeks after the end of a five-day war last August that began when Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia in a bid to bring it back under central control.

Kosovo has refused to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying it is on the side of "the leading world powers" on the issue. Russia has said that its decision to recognize the two republics has no parallels with the West's recognition of Kosovo.

"Drawing parallels is irrelevant here, and the difference is evident between Belgrade's policy towards Kosovo and how [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili's regime behaved towards South Ossetia and Abkhazia," Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said last August.

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