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Southeast European Times: Montenegrins to decide republic's future in 21 May referendum

Published date: 03.03.2006 15:47 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

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Montenegrin voters are to decide in a referendum on 21 May whether the Adriatic republic should become independent or remain part of a loose union with Serbia.

Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic officially asked the republic's parliament Thursday (2 March) to call an independence referendum on 21 May. The move came a day after lawmakers adopted a new law clearing the way for the vote, which could lead to the Adriatic republic's split from Serbia.

The legislation was approved by 60 of the lawmakers in the 75-seat assembly, after a nine-hour debate. Ten voted against it and five were absent.

The EU's special envoy for the Montenegrin referendum, Miroslav Lajcak, had proposed that the vote be held on 14 May, but Montenegrin politicians agreed that it should take place a week later. Lajcak has been mediating talks between the ruling, pro-independence parties and the opposition, which favours continuation of the loose state union with Serbia.

On Tuesday, the two sides agreed to put off the planned regular local elections until the autumn, to coincide with parliamentary elections.

In line with EU-recommended rules for the referendum, the law adopted Wednesday requires that for Montenegro to become independent, at least 55 per cent of the valid votes cast must be in support of the proposed split.

The ballot papers will contain a single question: "Do you wish the Republic of Montenegro to be an independent state with full international and legal subjectivity?"

Following the secession of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia in the early 1990s, Montenegro is the last of the former Yugoslav republics still joined in a bond with Serbia. An EU-brokered agreement in February 2003, which established the state union of Serbia-Montenegro, stipulated that either of the constituent republics could opt out of the union after a three-year period.

According to Serbia's BETA news agency, if the result of the May vote is negative, Montenegro will not be able to hold a new independence referendum for another three years.

But if the required majority is achieved, Montenegro would become Europe's newest independent state, with a population of some 650,000 people. The republic already has a significant degree of autonomy, with its own parliament and government. Unlike Serbia, whose national currency is the dinar, Montenegro uses the euro as its currency.

However, the two share common policies in the areas of defence, foreign affairs, domestic trade, EU integration and human rights.

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic voiced confidence Sunday that the independence bid would garner the required majority support.

In the last election, 57 per cent of the electorate voted for pro-independence parties, and 43 per cent for those in the pro-Belgrade camp. Opinion polls conducted in December showed that 41 per cent of Montenegrin voters support independence, 32 per cent are against it, and a total of 26 per cent are either undecided or would not say.