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Montenegro Votes for Independence


Celebrations have broken out in the former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, where official results show that a majority of voters said "yes" to independence in a controversial referendum. Pro-independence Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has denied that breaking its union with Serbia will lead to new tensions in the often volatile Balkans.

Montenegro's referendum commission has confirmed that slightly more than the required 55 percent of voters supported independence for the tiny republic in Sunday's referendum.

In the capital Podgorica, a key-stronghold for the pro-independence-camp, young people in particular welcomed the birth of Europe's newest nation, with some shooting Kalashnikov rifles in the air, waving flags, and dancing.

MAN: "We were waiting for 15 years to have a country, an independent Montenegro. We are very happy. We love you all..."

WOMAN: "[This is] Excellent."

MAN: "I think that Montenegro made a real choice and good choice. Because maybe this will be the better way to the European Union and maybe this will be the best way for resolving our problems."

WOMAN: "This is great. This is a historical moment. We have now our country."

The move follows a decade-long government campaign to restore the independence Montenegro last enjoyed in 1918, and seals the break up of what remains of Yugoslavia.

Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia broke away from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia in the 1990's. At least a quarter of a million people died in the violent break up.

The federation of Serbia and Montenegro was created three years ago under European Union supervision in an effort to avoid more bloodshed.

There are concerns that Montenegro's independence will lead to new tensions in the Balkans and encourage the province of Kosovo to secede or cause Serbs in Bosnia Herzegovina to seek re-unification with Serbia. But speaking through an interpreter Montenegro Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic calls these fears groundless.

"Those who say that Montenegro's independence will influence the way the Kosovo issue is resolved are biased and are dealing in cheap politics," he says. "I would add those are the theories of Greater Serbia nationalists. Montenegro must not be a bargaining chip for the appalling policy led in Kosovo for years."

He adds that Montenegro does not want to create new borders with Serbia, and that tourists coming from neighboring areas are already able to enter Montenegro without passports. Montenegro already uses the Euro currency.

Mr. Djukanovic believes independence will make it easier for his government to speed up reforms and enable Montenegro to join Western organizations such as the European Union.

Yet the pro-Serb opposition, including Orthodox priests, fear the independence move will lead to new divisions in society along ethnic lines. Critics also claim the tiny republic of just more than 600,000 people is too small to be a viable independent state.

European Union observers have urged all parties to accept the results of the referendum and hope the transition towards independence remains peaceful.

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