- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

PRISTINA, Kosovo — The muezzin’s dawn call to prayer was a jarring reminder that Europe’s newest state is a Muslim country. But the collective hangover after the all-night party that preceded it suggests the population is looking west to America — where recognition of the new state seemed imminent — rather than east to Mecca.

At a giant metallic sign reading “NEWBORN” down the street from the U.N. headquarters in Pristina, hundreds of denim-clad young Kosovars had partied through the night, drinking openly and dancing to Tupac Shakur’s “California Love.”

Amid the remains of the celebration that greeted early risers were dozens of posters expressing gratitude to the United States and Britain, which are seen as the driving force behind the 1999 NATO intervention that drove out Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s army and brutal paramilitaries, paving the way for yesterday’s declaration of independence.

“The Kosovars are now independent,” President Bush said today in Arusha, Tanzania, where he is traveling.

In Pristina, cars and buildings were covered with U.S. flags alongside the new Kosovar ensign, a far cry from the “Death to America” chants heard in some other Muslim countries.

Many Westerners were reminded of old newsreels showing delirious crowds welcoming American troops who liberated western Europe from the Nazis.

“The U.S. — and the Western countries — were like an extra arm for us,” said Bardha Ajvazi, a student working part-time at the Hotel Pllaza. “Americans helped us get our freedom, and since then have helped the poor people here with financial assistance.”

It was a far different story however just 15 miles from the capital in Gracanica, an ethnic Serbian enclave where residents carried with U.S. flags emblazoned with swastikas as they marched to protest Kosovo’s secession from Serbia.

Elsewhere, officials in multi-ethnic conflict hotspots past and present, such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia, criticized the “unmanageable precedent” set by Pristina’s Western-backed secession against the wishes of Serbian leaders.

Albanian leaders today sent letters to most of the world’s countries seeking immediate recognition, something they appeared likely to receive as early as today from the United States.

Mr. Bush appeared to have gotten ahead of his own administration when he declared that “the Kosovars are now independent.”

“It’s something that I’ve advocated along with my government,” Mr. Bush said in an interview on NBC’s “Today.”

In Washington, however, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said only that: “The United States is reviewing this issue and discussing it with its European partners. …

“The United States calls on all parties to exercise the utmost restraint and to refrain from any provocative act,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

The department said it planned an additional statement later today.

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