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Low Turnout Reported in Montenegro Presidential Vote - 2002-12-22

In Montenegro, a pro-independence candidate is expected to receive the most support in today's presidential elections. But concern remains that low turnout could make the ballot invalid.

Observers at the Center for Monitoring told reporters that only about four percent of Montenegro's nearly 460,000 eligible voters had turned out in the first two hours after the polls opened.

If that trend continues, the presidential election in the Yugoslav republic could be declared invalid. It is required that more than 50 percent of the electorate vote.

Main opposition parties had urged voters to boycott the election to undermine the pro-independence candidate, 48-year-old former Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic. He is running against 10 candidates who were not expected to win many votes.

Mr. Vujanovic wants to take over the country's top job from his ally, Milo Djukanovic, who resigned last month as president to become prime minister, a position that wields more power. They are members of the governing Democratic Party of Socialists, which won a landslide in recent parliamentary elections.

Opponents are against the pro-independence policies of both men.

The last remaining republics of the Yugoslav federation, Serbia and Montenegro, signed an accord to form a new alliance to be called "Serbia and Montenegro."

This arrangement will last for at least three years, after which both republics could decide on full independence. News about the low turnout and expected political stalemate would be a disappointment for the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Both institutions urged Montenegrins to vote in an effort to avoid further political instability in the often volatile Balkans.

The election was monitored by about 120 foreign monitors, as well as some two-thousand observers from non-governmental organizations.