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Bush: The Kosovars are now independent

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Kosovars celebrate the proclamation of Independence in Kosovo's capital Pristina on Sunday. Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership called a special session of parliament Sunday to declare independence a bold and historic bid for statehood in defiance of Serbia and Russia.

Visar Kryeziu / AP Enlarge

ARUSHA, Tanzania - President Bush on Monday recognized Kosovo's bold and historic bid for statehood, saying "The Kosavars are now independent."

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership announced its independence from Serbia over the weekend, and suspense gripped the province on Monday as its citizens awaited key backing from the United States and key European powers.

"It's something that I've advocated along with my government," Bush said in an interview on NBC's "Today."

By appealing directly to the U.S. and other nations for recognition, Kosovo's independence set up a showdown with Serbia outraged at the imminent loss of its territory and Russia.

Kosovo had formally remained a part of Serbia even though it has been administered by the U.N. and NATO since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists, which killed 10,000 people.

In April 2007, U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari recommended that Kosovo be granted internationally supervised independence. But talks that followed failed to yield an agreement between the ethnic Albanian leadership, which pushed for full statehood, and Serbia, which was willing to offer only autonomy.

"The Ahtisaari plan is our blueprint forward," Bush said. "We'll watch to see how the events unfold today. The Kosovars are now independent."

Serbia made clear it would never accept Kosovo's statehood. On Monday, Serbia said it would seek to block Kosovo from gaining diplomatic recognition and membership in the U.N. and other international organizations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has argued that independence without U.N. approval would set a dangerous precedent for "frozen conflicts" across the former Soviet Union, where separatists in Chechnya and Georgia are agitating for independence.

European Union nations have stood deeply divided over whether to recognize Kosovo's independence as their foreign ministers gathered in Brussels, Belgium, to try to forge a common stance. Britain, France, Germany and Ireland indicated they would push ahead with recognition. But Spain, which has struggled with its own separatist movement in the Basque region, called Kosovo's declaration illegal.

On Sunday, Bush said the U.S. will work to prevent violent clashes following the historic announcement.

"The United States will continue to work with our allies to do the very best we can to make sure there's no violence," Bush said several hours before Kosovo's parliament approved the declaration.

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