Rising tensions
 
Political tensions have been rising in the run-up to the expected declaration of independence on Sunday by the mainly ethnic Albanian province from Serbia, which vehemently opposes the move.
 
A core group of big EU states - Britain, France, Germany and Italy - are expected to recognise Kosovo's independence almost immediately, followed by the US.
 
Kosovo has been run by a UN mission since 1999, when a Nato bombing campaign drove out forces loyal to Slobodan Milosevic, the late Serbian president, after a months-long armed conflict with ethnic Albanian fighters.
 
Russia suggested on Friday that an independence declaration will affect its policy on two separatist pro-Russian regions in former Soviet Georgia.
 
Lavrov meeting
 
"The declaration and recognition of the independence of Kosovo will doubtless have to be taken into account as far as the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is concerned," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
 
The statement, released after Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, met the regions' leaders, did not say how Russia's policy towards the provinces might change.
Kosovo has been run by a UN mission since
199 after Nato bombing of Serb forces[AFP]

Moscow formally supports the territorial integrity of Georgia, but has granted Russian citizenship to most residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia
 
Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera's correspondent, in Mitrovica, northern Kosovo, said: "A meeting of Serb leaders in Mitrovica gathered from all over Kosovo, and their mood was one of deep apprehension and a lot of defiance.
 
"Community leaders stood up and said, 'Let us tell the international community that if Kosovo declares independence, they can forget about northern Kosovo. This is illegal, nothing is over, we will never accept it, it is just beginning.'"
 
UN appeal
 
Police reported an explosion in the flashpoint Kosovo town of Mitrovica overnight as Serbia, backed by its ally Russia, made an impassioned plea to the UN Security Council in New York against independence.
 

Vuk Jeremic, Serbia's foreign minister, told the 15-member council: "We shall never recognise Kosovo's independence. We shall not waiver, we shall not yield, should this cowardly act proceed unchecked - not now, not in a year, not in a decade, never."
 
That came as Tomislav Nikolic, the acting leader of Serbia's Radical Party, called on Boris Tadic, the Serbian president, and Vojislav Kostunica, the prime minister, to arrange a massive protest.
 
"If Kosovo proclaims independence on Sunday, the rally should be held in the course of next week," said Nicolic, whose party's president Vojislav Seselj is being tried for war crimes in The Hague.
 
Independence protest
 
The appeal came as posters from several nationalist organisations appeared in downtown Belgrade calling on citizens to gather in front of the Slovenian embassy on Saturday.
 
Slovenia, which along with Croatia was the first republic to declare independence from the former communist Yugoslavia in 1991, is the current president of the European Union.
 
The province is just days away from
declaring its independence [AFP]
Kostunica, a conservative nationalist, is staunchly opposed to the EU mission, which he says is the first step towards the creation of a "puppet state" on his country's territory.
 
Tadic, a pro-Western leader who also opposes Kosovo's independence but not at the expense of Serbia's integration with the European Union, was sworn in for a second term on Friday.
 
He was narrowly re-elected in a February 3 presidential election runoff against Nikolic.
 
Taking his oath in Belgrade, Tadic declared his intention to defend Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo, which the nation's constitution proclaims as an "integral" part of the country.
 
"I will never give up fighting for our Kosovo and I will, with all my might, fight for Serbia to join the European Union," he said.

Kosovan view
 
Fatmir Sejdu, the president of Kosovo, told Al Jazeera that he wanted peace and stability after independence is declared, and that he would protect minority Serbs in the region.
 
"Kosovo will be a country for all its citizens. Our institutions are committed to this. We will keep these guarantees. The citizens that love Kosovo as their own country will stay here.
 
"Our approach was of course that Kosovo would have full international support, but because a few countries hesitated [in the United Nations], we had to take another road.
 
"But Kosovo has the backing of important countries ... in the UN, the US and other democracies.
 
"We want peace, stability and good relations. I give this message to President Tadic ... Kosovo is ready to build new relations, for the sake of young people and future generations," he said.