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Kosovo tries to launch independence softly

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Kosovo's independence closes a chapter of grief and genocide in the Balkans dating from 1992. Analysts concerned about a "domino effect" of a bloody re-ordering of ethnic borders see Kosovo's peaceful evolution as a test for EU and US resolve in southern Europe. But the province's independence is bitterly opposed by Serbia, which enjoys at least rhetorical backing from Russia.

Since 2000, the EU has spent $4 billion here and will send its largest ever (1,800) civil and police mission in days.

Serb Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica stated Tuesday, "We shall not allow a fictitious state to exist for a minute on Serbian territory. It has to be legally annulled."

The precise manner of Kosovo's declaration remains unclear. Officials hint at 48 hours notice; some say it will be only six – ahead of an EU foreign ministers' meeting next Monday. NATO-KFOR has been increasing its 17,000-strong presence with soldiers having combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kosovo police leaves are cancelled as of this week.

"I almost think the idea is to have everyone wake up in the morning to find we declared at 3 a.m.," says Pristina columnist Baton Haxhiu. "Many of us might feel like waving flags and making a big fire. But the international community and Serbs could say we are just primitives, untrustworthy Albanians. So we will be on good behavior. Everyone knows – no big fires."

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