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Kosovo Serbs Hold Defiant Referendum

A woman casts her ballot at the polling station in Zvecan, Kosovo, February 14, 2012.

A woman casts her ballot at the polling station in Zvecan, Kosovo, February 14, 2012.

Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo began voting Tuesday in a referendum on whether to recognize the ethnic Albanian-dominated Pristina government, which northerners have ignored since the former Serbian province declared independence in 2008.

Some 35,000 voters in flashpoint Serb towns and enclaves are expected to overwhelmingly reject Pristina's rule in the two-day vote. Election results are expected next week.

Kosovo is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, while Kosovo Serbs dominate in areas bordering Serbia. The Serb population has so far resisted efforts by Pristina to extend its authority into northern areas.

The European Union has said Serbia must find a way to end ethnic unrest along its boundary with northern Kosovo, if it wants its bid for EU membership to move forward.

That threat from EU member Germany has prompted Belgrade to discourage the referendum, warning that it will stall its push to join the union and thus diminish hopes for bringing a higher standard of living to the impoverished region.

Serbian diplomats, including envoy Oliver Ivanovic, have called the vote meaningless and unconstitutional.

"The Serbian government and president of Serbia made it very clear to the local Serbian leaders that this referendum is useless and counter-productive," said the diplomat.

Analysts warn the vote could further stoke ethnic tensions in an already volatile region.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.