Tiny Kosovo - poor, mostly Muslim but feverishly pro-Western - braced itself Saturday for a historic declaration of independence from Serbia, a decade after a war that killed 10,000 people and years of limbo under U.N. rule.
The province's bold bid for statehood, expected today, and its quest for international recognition set up an ominous showdown with Serbia and Russia. Moscow contends the move will set a dangerous precedent for secessionist groups worldwide.
Revelers took to the streets in giddy anticipation. Prime Minister Hashim Thaci - a former leader of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army - marked the eve of the new nation's birth by visiting a village where Serbian troops massacred ethnic Albanians in 1998.
Thaci was expected to call a special session of Parliament today to declare an independent Republic of Kosovo and unveil a new flag and national crest.
"We are getting our independence. The world's map is changing," Thaci said in a televised address late Saturday.
Kosovo's small Serb population greeted the secession as though it were an amputation. Many vowed never to accept the loss of a region they consider the heart of their ancestral homeland.
"I'm asking all the Serbs to reject the monster state of Kosovo and to do everything to prevent its birth," said Marko Jaksic, a Kosovo Serb hard-line leader.
Although it is formally part of Serbia, Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended the late Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.