Kosovo hails ex-president Clinton, unveils his statue

PRISTINA, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Kosovo's Albanian majority unveiled a statue of former U.S. president Bill Clinton on Sunday to thank him for saving them by stopping a wave of ethnic cleansing by Serbia.

As the U.S. President in 1999, Clinton launched NATO air strikes to halt the killing of ethnic Albanians by Serbian troops.

Clinton's speech was interrupted several times by Kosovo Albanians wildly cheering his name and U.S.A., and waving U.S., Albanian and Kosovo flags.

"I am profoundly grateful that I had a chance to be a part of ending the horrible things that were happening to you 10 years ago giving you a chance to build a better future for yourself," Clinton told the crowd.

The crowd chanted Clinton's name when the former president started shaking hands with people along a boulevard named after him.

"I never expected ... anywhere someone will make such a big statue of me," Clinton said after his 3-metre (10 foot) statue was unveiled.

He urged Kosovars to build a multi-ethnic country with the minority Serbs and other minorities and said the United States would always help Kosovo's people.

"You have to build something good and we should help," he added.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia last year and was recognised by the United States and major European Union powers -- a total of 62 countries worldwide but not by its former ruler Serbia, Russia and China.

Grateful Kosovo Albanians also named a central street in central Pristina after former U.S. president George W. Bush.

Kosovo Albanians regard Clinton, former British prime minister Tony Blair and Clinton's state secretary Madeleine Albright as their saviours and have named their babies after them.

Ismail Neziri had travelled 60 km (37 miles) to see the president again after they met in a refugee camp in Macedonia where Neziri's family had fled to escape the forces of late Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Around 10,000 Albanians were killed as Serb forces moved to wipe out an ethnic Albanian guerrilla force and 800,000 were expelled to neighbouring Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro.

"I was only eight years in a refugee camp in Macedonia when Clinton took me in his hands and today he is the same big and young man," said Neziri, 18, holding a U.S. flag.

"In 1996 everybody was speaking that Clinton is a good man and he will help us and then my father named me after him," said 13-year-old Klinton Krasniqi. (Editing by Richard Williams)