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Last Updated: Monday, 19 November 2007, 20:18 GMT
EU warns Kosovo on independence
People at Kosovo polling station
Turnout was low, while many Serbs boycotted the vote
EU foreign ministers have urged Kosovo's Albanians not to rush into any unilateral declaration of independence following Saturday's election.

The UK's Europe minister said any declaration ought to be "co-ordinated with the international community".

Hashim Thaci, whose party claimed victory in the election, has said a declaration will be made immediately after talks with the Serb minority.

Serbia has warned that might lead to more conflict in the Balkans.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told the BBC that Albanian negotiators had no incentive to compromise if the international community promised to honour independence once the UN's negotiating deadline expired on 10 December.

"It renders the whole situation useless," he told Europe Today.

Kosovo is formally a part of Serbia but has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when Nato ejected Serbian forces from the province.

'International unity'

Speaking at a news conference after EU talks on Kosovo, the UK's Europe minister, Jim Murphy, said independence without foreign support could isolate the breakaway province.

We need on this issue a soft landing rather than a big bang - the Balkans is a rather fragile place
Carl Bildt
Swedish Foreign Minister

"Kosovo should have her independence [but] it shouldn't be an unmanaged, unilateral declaration - it should be one that is co-ordinated with the international community," he said.

Mr Murphy said "well above 20" EU member states backed independence for the breakaway province but that they had not "got to 27 yet".

"In terms of managing this process, it's a much better outcome for everyone involved if there's maximum international unity," he added.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said a "soft landing" rather than a "big bang" was required in order to maintain stability in the region.

"The Balkans is a rather fragile place," he told reporters.

At least five European countries, including Greece and Romania, fear independence for Kosovo would encourage separatist trends in the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe. Russia is strongly against it, while the US backs the move.

The EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has meanwhile warned that formal independence for Kosovo would require proper preparations.

'New century'

Earlier on Monday, independent election observers said Mr Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) had won 34% of the vote with more than 90% of ballots counted.

Hashim Thaci claims victory in Kosovo's general election
Hashim Thaci wants to move towards the EU

They said the rival Democratic League of Kosovo (LKD), which had dominated Kosovo politics in recent years, trailed in second place with 22%.

"We will declare independence immediately after 10 December," Mr Thaci told cheering supporters as results were coming in.

If the PDK did in fact win the largest number of seats in the 120-seat parliament, a period of negotiations is likely to take place before a coalition government is formed by the former rebel leader, the BBC's Nick Hawton in Pristina says.

But every ethnic Albanian party, our correspondent adds, has the same priority: trying to make Kosovo an independent state in its own right and break away from Serbia.

According to election officials, the turnout for the was around 45%, the lowest since 1999.

The Serbian government had called on ethnic Serbs not to vote so as to avoid giving the new government legitimacy.

A Kosovo Serb spokesman, Rade Negojevic, said just three out of 46,000 Serbs in northern Kosovo had cast ballots.

Hashim Thaci jubilant at election success

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