The province of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, sending tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians streaming through the streets to celebrate what they hoped was the end of a long and bloody struggle for national self-determination.
Kosovo's bid to be recognized as Europe's newest country - after a civil war that killed 10,000 people a decade ago and then years of limbo as a U.N. protectorate - was the latest episode in the dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia, 17 years after its dissolution began.
The move also brings to a climax a showdown between the West, which argues that Serbia's brutal subjugation of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority cost it any right to rule the territory, and the Serbian government and its allies in Russia. They counter that Kosovo's independence is a reckless breach of international law that will spur other secessionist movements across the world.
As Albanians danced in the streets and fired guns in the air in the capital, Pristina, international reaction was sharply divided, suggesting that the clash between the principles of sovereignty and self-determination was far from resolved.
Britain, France and Germany were expected to be the first to recognize the new nation as early as today, while other countries, fearing separatist movements within their own borders, have said they would refuse. Russia demanded an emergency meeting Sunday of the U.N. Security Council to proclaim the declaration "null and void," but the meeting produced no resolution.
President Bush, speaking in Tanzania, said the United States would continue to work to prevent violence in Kosovo, while reaching out to Serbia. He said that resolving the conflict in Kosovo was essential to stability in the Balkans and that "the Serbian people can know that they have a friend in America."
The United States and additional European Union member states were expected to recognize Kosovo's independence in the coming days.
In declaring independence, Kosovo's prime minister, Hashim Thaci, a former leader of the guerrilla force that just over 10 years ago began an armed rebellion against Serbian domination, struck a note of reconciliation. Addressing Parliament, he pledged to protect the rights of Kosovo's Serbian minority.
"I feel the heartbeat of our ancestors," he said. "We, the leaders of our people, democratically elected, through this declaration proclaim Kosovo an independent and sovereign state."
Kosovo, a poor, predominantly Muslim landlocked territory of 2-million, has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999, policed by 16,000 NATO troops.
In an outpouring of adulation for the United States, the architect of NATO's 1999 bombing campaign against Serbian forces under President Slobodan Milosevic, revelers unfurled giant American flags, carried posters of former President Bill Clinton and chanted, "Thank you, USA" and "God bless America."
Serbia: Vojislav Kostunica, the prime minister of Serbia, which has regarded Kosovo as its heartland since medieval times, said Serbia would never recognize the "false state."
U.N. meeting: Russia tried to block Kosovo's independence during a closed-door emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on Sunday, saying it is deeply concerned about the safety of Serbs living in the territory. The council met at the request of Serbia and Russia, which argue that Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia violates a 1999 council resolution that authorizes the United Nations to administer the territory. A second meeting is set for today.
United States: President Bush said the United States would work to prevent violent clashes following Kosovo's declaration of independence. "We are heartened by the fact that the Kosovo government has clearly proclaimed its willingness and its desire to support Serbian rights in Kosovo. We also believe it's in Serbia's interest to be aligned with Europe," he said.