The streets of Pristina are crowded in anticipation of a declaration of independence [Reuters]

Thousands of ethnic Albanian citizens of Kosovo have gathered in Pristina, the main city, in anticipation of becoming the world's newest country, amid a special session of the breakaway province's parliament to declare independence from Serbia.

On Sunday, Hashim Thaci, the Albanian prime minister, summoned parliament to a special session in which deputies are set to vote for a proclamation of independence from Serbia.

"The moment has come to inform you... that I have enjoyed the honour and responsibility... of requesting an extraordinary session" of parliament to vote on independence, Thaci told a press conference.

"We are on the threshold of the most important moment in our history," he told a throng of local and international journalists gathered in Pristina's Grand Hotel.

The parliament session was due to begin at 3pm (1400 GMT).

On Saturday night, car horns blared and fireworks lit up the sky as people waving Albanian flags poured into the capital Pristina in expectation of the impending independence from Serbia.

Thaci said "the influence of Belgrade has ended".

"The success of Kosovo's independence as a new beginning will be clearly measured by respect for the rights of minorities, especially Serbs," he told the state public broadcaster.

'Ode to Joy'

In depth

In video Serbs pray for Kosovo

 

Q&A
Kosovo and independence

 

Background The difficult road ahead

Independence is expected to be declared shortly after parliament summons to the strains of "Ode to Joy", the anthem of the European Union, according to local news media.

The breakaway Serbian province has been run by a United Nations mission since 1999, when a Nato bombing campaign drove out forces loyal to Slobodan Milosevic, the late Serbian president, after an armed conflict with ethnic Albanian fighters.

Lieutenant-General Xavier de Marnhac, the commander of Nato peacekeepers in Kosovo, said his troops "will react and oppose any provocation that may happen during these days, whether from the Albanian or the Serb side".

North of the River Ibar, Serbs held a day of prayer and protest to demonstrate they will never accept the secession of land where a 90 per cent Albanian majority has struggled for its own state for almost two decades.

Pristina expects countries, including the US and several EU members, to announce their recognition of the new nation on Monday.
 
On Friday, Kosovo's parliament convened to approve a procedure to adopt new laws that would come into effect upon independence, including measures to guarantee the safety of Serbs.
 
For its part, the EU on Saturday launched a 2,000-member police and judicial mission to help facilitate Kosovo's transition to independence.

'Illegal secession'

In Belgrade, more than 1,000 people gathered with to protest against the loss of land many consider their religious heartland, steeped in history and the site of dozens of centuries-old Orthodox monasteries.

Thaci says 'it's a historic moment for
all Kosovans'
[Reuters]

They delivered a petition to the embassy of EU president Slovenia, condemning EU support for Kosovo's "illegal" secession.

Al Jazeera's Nazanin Moshiri in the Serbian capital said that while there was widespread opposition to the secession there was little appetite for military intervention and the focus would be on the legality of the move.

"Their may be moves [from Serbia] trying through their key ally Russia and through the UN security council trying to get some last minute diplomacy possibly to keep some parts of northern Kosovo within Serbia," she said.

"But there is very little the government in Belgrade can really do to prevent the declaration of independence and very little to stop Western powers from recognising it."

In the divided northern city of Mitrovica, Milan Ivanovic, the Kosovo Serbs' leader, has rejected the EU police mission and predicted a public boycott.
 
"The EU mission is not welcome. We will boycott it and use all methods of civic resistance," he said.
 
Serbs make up 120,000 of Kosovo's 1.8 million people and they want to stay a part of Serbia.

On Friday Boris Tadic, the Serbian president, said he "will never give up fighting for our Kosovo and I will, with all my might, fight for Serbia to join the European Union".

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies