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France recognises the independence of Kosovo

Ending hours of suspense, France recognises the independence of Kosovo at a EU foreign minister's meeting in Brussels.

world Updated: Feb 19, 2008 02:31 IST

France recognised the independence of Kosovo on Monday, ending hours of suspense after Prime Minister Hashim Thaci assured the new republic that Western recognition would come "any minute".

The announcement by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, at a EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, was a relief for Pristina.

The smooth response Thaci had expected from the European Union and the United States was tripped up earlier, when EU member Spain broke ranks to say 'No'.

Then US President George W Bush appeared to jump the gun ahead of his own State Department.

In a television interview during his tour of Africa, Bush said the people of Kosovo "are now independent". The remark was flashed in Kosovo as meaning US recognition but White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said: "He didn't announce that."

"What he meant by that is that the Kosovars have declared their independence," Perino said, making clear it was the job of the US State Department to officially declare recognition.

Bush was due to make a statement about Kosovo on Tuesday, in line with the original script which calls for the EU to go first in announcing its policy on what the West insists is a "European issue" that Serb ally Russia should not interfere in.

But the first word from Brussels was a disappointment.

"The government of Spain will not recognize the unilateral act proclaimed yesterday by the assembly of Kosovo," Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told reporters.

"We will not recognize because we consider ... this does not respect international law," said the minister, whose country is grappling with separatist movements of its own.

Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania have indicated they too are not keen to recognize Kosovo.

Afghanistan officially greeted the new Balkan state, but Vietnam and Azerbaijan said they would not recognize it.

The thumbs-up Kosovo confidently expects from London, Rome, and Berlin and up to 100 other governments was still in the pipeline.

There was no shortage of protest by Serbs against the unilateral secession of the southern province, run by the United Nations and NATO for the past 9 years.

Serbs protested against Kosovo's secession for a second day in Belgrade, in their Kosovo stronghold of Mitrovica, and in isolated Serb enclaves in central Kosovo. Several thousand turned out for the rallies, which remained peaceful.

Serbs in the Bosnian Serb capital Banja Luka also demonstrated, shouting, "Kill the Albanians!"

The EU appealed for calm after Serb nationalist protesters stoned Western embassies in Belgrade on Sunday night.