Kosovo declares independence

Kosovo's parliament has declared the territory to be an 'independent and sovereign state,' formally breaking away from Serbia.

Kosovo declared itself an independent nation on Sunday, sealing a historic bid for statehood in defiance of the Serbian government and Russia.

Legislators unanimously approved the declaration of independence from Serbia.  Eleven ethnic minority deputies, including Serbs, were absent for the vote.

Kosovo is "an independent, sovereign and democratic state," parliamentary speaker Jakup Krasniqi announced afterwards.

Shortly after the vote, the president of the United Nations Security Council agreed to a request from Russia to hold an emergency session Sunday afternoon. But there was little that could be done for Russia because Kosovo has the support of the EU and the United States, the CBC's Neil Herland reported shortly after the meeting.

Ambassadors from Europe and the U.S. released a joint statement on behalf of their member states, saying that they supported Kosovo's right to independence and also called on all parties involved to not resort to violence, Herland reported.

Following the closed-door meeting, Russia called for an open debate Monday at the UN Security Council, Herland said.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica responded to the news of the declaration by calling the breakaway province a "false state."

Serbian nationalists have repeated many times that they will never recognize Kosovo's independence.

Earlier in the day, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci signed documents to be sent to Western leaders, asking them to recognize the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo.

Kosovo's independence has the potential to create a showdown with Serbia, which has called such a move illegal.

Kosovo formally remained a part of Serbia even though it has been administered by the United Nations and NATO since the Kosovo war ended in 1999.

Some countries in the EU have indicated they will recognize Kosovo's independence. However, Russia, a Serbian ally, says it will not. It says the move could set a dangerous precedent for separatist groups worldwide.

However, most Western nations have said they will support the fledgling nation.

Serbians 'have a friend in America': Bush

U.S. President George W. Bush, speaking in Tanzania on a tour of Africa, spoke optimistically about the future of an independent Kosovo.

"We are heartened by the fact that the Kosovo government has clearly proclaimed its willingness and its desire to support Serbian rights in Kosovo," he said. "We also believe it's in Serbia's interest to be aligned with Europe and the Serbian people can know that they have a friend in America."

On Friday, Thaci announced the creation of a government office to handle the concerns of the Serb minority in an attempt to ease tensions.

About 90 per cent of Kosovo's two million people are ethnic Albanians. Most of its minority Serbs live in isolated enclaves, and feel unprotected and vulnerable.

About 16,000 NATO-led peacekeepers are bolstering security and the alliance increased its patrols heading into the weekend in hopes of discouraging violence.

On the streets of the capital, Pristina, Kosovar Albanians set up a huge independence cake decorated with flags and independence slogans. Some city streets were gridlocked with people celebrating.

Thaci joined the parliamentary speaker and President Fatmir Sejdiu in the unveiling of a new national crest and a flag: a bright blue banner featuring a golden map of Kosovo and six stars, one for each of its main ethnic groups.