(dpa) - Street celebrations began on Thursday in the Albanian capital of Tirana minutes after NATO formally invited Albania to join the alliance at the summit in Bucharest.
NATO's blue flag was raised alongside the Albanian banner in front of state institutions and in parliament.
Columns of cars with people hanging out the windows, waving NATO and Albanian flags, were circling the capital and an official street party was scheduled for the evening.
Officials in Tirana welcomed the invitation for the once tightly- isolated, backward Communist country as a certificate that overcome much of the gap in relation to the developed Europe.
"This is an extraordinary event for Albania, capping 17 years of transition. By opening its doors to Albania, NATO shows that we have fulfilled our obligations and implemented the reforms we promised to NATO," said parliament speaker Jozefina Topalli.
She expressed gratitude to "all countries which have supported our quest and especially the United States."
The opposition Socialist Party leader, Edi Rama, also welcomed the invitation to join NATO, as "an old dream come true," but also warned of "challenges ahead" on the road to NATO that would test Albania.
Albania was invited to join NATO alongside Croatia. The two countries hope to become full members within a year.
The third Balkan country that has hoped to receive the call, Macedonia, was left locked outside by NATO-member Greece amid their row over the right to the name "Macedonia."