Tue, Sep 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Historic vote represents a `triumph of European Montenegro' over Serb blocs

AP , PODGORICA, MONTENEGRO

Supporters of Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic celebrate in Podgorica yesterday after declaring victory in parliamentary and local elections.

PHOTO: EPA/STR

Independent election monitors confirm that the ruling center-left coalition that led Montenegro to independence in June won the most votes in the tiny Balkan state's first parliamentary elections since splitting from Serbia.

The Coalition for European Montenegro, led by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, won 41 seats on Sunday in Montenegro's 81-seat parliament, according to the Center for Democratic Transition.

Two pro-Serbian blocs together won 23 seats, while the Movement for Change won 11, the center said.

The vote was key to Montenegro's hopes for joining the EU and NATO, as the new parliament will be charged with drafting and passing a constitution for the world's newest country.

"This is a triumph of European Montenegro," Djukanovic said, as his jubilant supporters fired guns into the air and launched fireworks in victory celebrations. "We won absolute power in Montenegro."

But Nebojsa Medojevic, the leader of the Movement for Change, said the vote proved that Montenegro was not ready to "get rid" of Djukanovic's "corrupt and incompetent" regime, which has ruled the nation for 17 years.

The pro-Serbian Socialist Peoples' Party, considered Djukanovic's biggest election rival, conceded defeat. "This is a bad and disappointing result for us."

The election, the first since Montenegro became an independent state, came as police announced a crackdown on an alleged ethnic Albanian terrorist group that authorities said had threatened the ballot.

Police said 14 ethnic Albanians were arrested on Saturday in the southern border village of Tuzi, including three US citizens. They "represented a danger to the people of Montenegro," authorities said, providing no additional details.

The leader of an ethnic Albanian party in Tuzi said the arrests were a political provocation, as most of the suspects were either party supporters or candidates. Several people were beaten and their homes ransacked, he said.

"If they had plans to arrest a `terrorist group, they chose a wrong moment to do it," said Vasej Sinistaj, head of the Albanian Alternative party.

Ethnic Albanians comprise about 7 percent of Montenegro's population of 620,000.

Authorities rejected accusations that the arrests in Tuzi were politically motivated.

Djukanovic said the group had threatened "the country's legal order and the democratic ballot."

A machine gun, pistols, rifles, hand grenades, anti-tank mines and rocket-propelled grenade launchers were found during the raid.

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