Montenegro's leaders were cleared to run the world's newest state yesterday after official results showed 55.5 percent of voters had chosen independence, ending nearly a century of formal ties to Serbia and closing the final chapter in the story of Yugoslavia.
Montenegro's referendum commission president, Frantisek Lipka, told a news conference the "Yes" vote had passed the target majority of 55 percent set by the EU for recognition of the result. Turnout was 86.3 percent.
Breaking the silence from the highest levels of the Belgrade government since the Montenegro vote, Serbian President Boris Tadic yesterday said that he accepted the results.
But Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica -- who has openly supported preserving the union -- could only offer his conditional approval of the results.
"Serbia will fully respect the final outcome of the referendum, but we have to wait for the final results," Kostunica told reporters at a separate news conference, referring to a Saturday deadline before which the results can be contested.
Montenegro's pro-independence and the unionist blocs now have three days to submit any complaints on the election process before the result is certified.
The unionist camp in Montenegro on Monday publicly demanded a recount, arguing that there may have been unspecified irregularities, but Lipka said the commission had not received any formal objections.
The demand has added to tensions among Montenegro's deeply split factions. The pro-independence Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic urged his opponents late on Monday to give up any attempts to ``overturn what cannot be overturned.'' He said that by disputing the election process, the unionists are ``casting a shadow over Montenegro's democratic and European face.''
The EU has commended Montenegro's conduct in the vote, and said it would recognize the result of the plebiscite.
International observers who monitored the independence referendum also said the vote was ``genuine and transparent,'' and free of fraud or other irregularities. Montenegro has a population of just 650,000, with a rugged coast and even more rugged mountains in a territory about the size of Northern Ireland. Tourism is its planned ticket to prosperity as it strikes out on its own.
"I am convinced Montenegro could be the next country from this region to join the EU, after Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia, which are further along the process," Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, the architect of the independence drive for the past 10 years, said on Monday amid scenes of celebration.
Serbia reluctantly conceded that its little cousin on the Adriatic had opted to split, and the EU quickly gave a seal of approval to a separation it had once tried to prevent, fearing further instability in Europe's most turbulent corner.