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Reuters: Montenegro hoists flag in step towards independence

Published date: 20.07.2004 12:05 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

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PODGORICA, Serbia and Montenegro, July 15 (Reuters) - Montenegro on Thursday hoisted a red flag emblazoned with a golden double-headed eagle above its parliament building for the first time since it lost its independence in 1918.

The symbolic act underscoring Montenegro's intention to become independent of Serbia took place in a ceremony led by Montenegro's parliamentary speaker Ranko Krivokapic.

"This is the first time since 1918 that this flag is raised in front of a state institution," Krivokapic told some 2,000 people gathered outside the parliament building in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica.

"We need an independent Montenegro," read one placard held aloft in the crowd, which cheered and applauded as the flag was unfurled. Many young men and women were dressed in traditional Montenegrin clothes.

The ceremony took place three days after parliament passed a law re-introducing the flag and the coat of arms which the tiny Adriatic republic used when it was a sovereign state ruled by the Petrovic royal family between 1878 and 1918. It also approved an old folk song as its national anthem.

Under intense European Union pressure, Montenegro agreed in 2002 to shelve its plans for independence and for at least three years stay with Serbia in a loose union called Serbia and Montenegro which became the successor to Yugoslavia last year.

But Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and other Montenegrin leaders have made clear they intend to go ahead with a referendum on independence, possibly in 2006.

They say Montenegro with a population of 650,000 would be able to join the EU faster on its own and reject Western fears independence would destabilise the volatile region by encouraging breakaway movements elsewhere, for example in neighbouring Kosovo.

"The national strategy of Montenegro is to go towards independence," one senior official told Reuters.

The law ditched the red, blue and white flag dating from when Montenegro was part the Yugoslav federation which collapsed during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. No flag had yet been adopted for the union of Serbia and Montenegro.

Montenegro was recognised as an independent country by major powers at the 1878 Berlin Congress, redrawing Balkan borders as a weakened Ottoman empire retreated from the region. It joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians in 1918, which become socialist Yugoslavia after World War Two.