Tue, May 23, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Wafer-thin victory in vote splits Montenegro, Serbia

AP AND AFP , PODGORICA, SERBIA-MONTENEGRO AND BRUSSELS

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, second right, sprays champagne over pro-independence supporters in Podgorica yesterday after he proclaimed victory for the pro-independence camp in a referendum on a split from Serbia.

PHOTO: AFP

Montenegro's state electoral commission yesterday confirmed the victory of a pro-independence bloc in a referendum to secede from Serbia and form a separate state.

The head of the commission, Frantisek Lipka, said that according to near-complete results, 55.4 percent voted on Sunday for Montenegro to become and independent state. The EU has said a minimum 55 percent threshold of "Yes" votes was needed for Montenegro to secede.

The result confirms the split of the Serbia-Montenegro union, and write the final chapter in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said yesterday that the EU would respect the results.

"We will fully respect the result of the referendum," said Solana, who helped set the conditions under which the plebiscite would be held.

Separately, the European Commission, the EU's executive body, called on all sides in the tiny Balkans state to respect the final results.

Even before the official results were announced, independence backers declared victory on Sunday, although the unionists refused to concede defeat and the state electoral commission said official results would not be published until late yesterday.

Thousands of independence supporters flooded the streets of the capital Podgorica and other towns to celebrate the restoring their statehood after 88 years of being in the Balkan union.

"I congratulate you on your state," pro-independence Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said hours after the polls closed.

"Today, the citizens of Montenegro voted to restore their statehood," he said.

"This is the most important day in Montenegro's recent history," Djukanovic added.

Outside the government building in Podgorica, thousands of supporters fired guns in the air in celebratory fire, and drove up and down the main street, honking car horns and waving red-and-golden Montenegrin flags.

But tensions rose as the anti-independence faction refused to concede defeat, urging their opponents to return to their homes and wait for the official results.

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