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Jan 9 (Reuters) - Kosovo's parliament endorsed a coalition government on Wednesday headed by ex-guerrilla Hashim Thaci on a promise to lead the Albanian majority province to independence from Serbia early this year.
The major Western powers back independence for the territory, which has been run by the United Nations since NATO drove out Serb forces in 1999. Serbia and Russia are opposed.
Here are some possible scenarios for what could happen next.
KOSOVO SETS DATE FOR INDEPENDENCE DECLARATION
Kosovo Albanian politicians have said they will set a date for a unilateral declaration of independence after consulting Washington and Brussels. The timing will probably depend on the coordination of U.N. and European Union diplomats on the handover from one mission to the other, but will almost certainly come after a presidential election in Serbia on Jan. 20 and Feb. 3. The West wants to wait until after the election is over to avert a protest vote that would put a hardline nationalist in power -- but it is also considering offering Serbia a sweetener in the form of an EU pre-membership pact at the end of January.
SERBIA, RUSSIA ASK FOR MORE TALKS
Serbia and its ally Russia insist more negotiations are needed, and any final outcome should go through the U.N. Security Council. The United States and most EU members are convinced there is no room for compromise between Serbia's offer of autonomy and the Kosovo Albanians' demand for independence. The EU takes over policing and justice in the province from the U.N. mission in the first months of 2008, as foreseen by a U.N-sponsored plan that Russia blocked earlier this year. Serbia might press its point with counter-measures, including trade blockades or border closures.
MINORITY SERBS FLEE
A survey among Kosovo's minority Serbs showed that some 70 percent believe violence will escalate in the province once the Albanian majority declares independence. Some 46 percent said they would then leave an independent Kosovo "at any cost", while a further 23 percent said they would leave once they secured "a minimum" of living conditions elsewhere.
SERBIA SEEKS PARTITION OF KOSOVO
Although the Serb government states publicly that it does not want a partition of Kosovo, it has for years been setting up parallel institutions in the northern, mostly Serb part that borders Serbia proper. It has been picking up the bills for healthcare, education and public administration, and encouraging minority Serbs to look to Belgrade as their capital in all respects, to the extent that a de-facto partition is almost unavoidable. Serbia has also broadly hinted at the possibility that Serbs in Bosnia could, in their turn, secede.
PROSPECTS OF VIOLENCE
The restive Albanian minorities in neighbouring Macedonia and in Serbia's southern Presevo Valley are looking closely at Kosovo, with some hardline local leaders already speaking of land swaps especially if Kosovo is partitioned. Although many guerrillas from the Kosovo Liberation Army gave up their weapons after the end of the 1998-99 war, tens of thousands of weapons are believed to be still hidden in the province, many in the hands of criminal gangs. Small nationalist groups -- both Serb and Albanian -- have pledged to take up arms to defend their respective causes, but the 16,000 NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo act as guarantee against major violence.