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> Montenegro faces poll pressure

Published date: 02.03.2006 13:50 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

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Montenegro faces poll pressure
By Stefan Wagstyl in London and Daniel Dombey in Brussels
Published: February 27 2006 02:00

European Union foreign ministers will today urge political leaders in Montenegro to settle a dispute over the terms for a planned independence referendum.

The pro-independence Montenegrin government is preparing to hold the vote to decide whether to split from Serbia and break up the loose union of Serbia and Montenegro that was created three years ago from the ruins of the former Yugoslavia.

The arguments come at a delicate time. Serbia also faces the prospect of losing Kosovo, the United Nations-administered territory where the ethnic Albanian majority wants independence, and is coming under international pressure to arrest General Ratko Mladic, the war crimes tribunal fugitive.

Montenegro has operated with a large degree of autonomy since the mid-1990s but the government's efforts to secure independence have been resisted by Serbia and by the EU, which in 1993 persuaded Montenegro to postpone referendum plans for three years.

With the deadline passing, the Montenegrin government wants an April referendum in which the Yes vote would face two hurdles - 50 per cent of those voting and 41 per cent of the total electorate. But the anti-independence opposition parties argue these hurdles are too low for such an important vote. So does Belgrade, which is calling for a Yes vote minimum of 50 per cent of the total electorate.

Earlier this month, Miroslav Lajcak, an EU special envoy, proposed a compromise of 55 per cent of those voting with a minimum 50 per cent turnout.

The hurdles could be crucial, as opinion polls indicate that the results could be close. The latest survey in December showed 41.4 per cent supported independence, 32.3 per cent were against, and the rest were either undecided or declined to state their choice.

Serbian officials have criticised the Lajcak compromise. The Montenegrin government and opposition parties have yet to give formal answers but the government has sent a letter to EU members urging a rethink.

The EU has warned independence would disrupt association talks with the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro.