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Independence Advocate Winning in Montenegro Presidential Election - 2003-05-11

Former Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic won a decisive victory in Montenegro's presidential elections Sunday, according to unofficial results. Mr. Vujanovic favors Montenegro's independence from Serbia.

With most of the votes counted, Filip Vujanovic, the pro-independence candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, is leading his nearest rival by a two-to-one margin and is expected to become Montenegro's first president since the Yugoslav federation was transformed in February. The official results will be announced Monday.

Under European Union pressure, Montenegro and the much larger Serbia replaced the truncated Yugoslavia with a new union known as "Serbia and Montenegro."

Although Mr. Vujanovic said this new union should be given what he calls "a fair chance" to function, he wants Montenegro eventually to break away from Serbia. It is widely expected that Mr. Vujanovic will use the possibility under the EU-backed agreement with Serbia to call for a referendum on independence in three years time.

Miodrag Zivkovic of the more radically pro-independence Liberal Alliance of Montenegro came in second, with just over 30 percent of the vote, with independent candidate Dragan Hajdukovic trailing far behind in the third place.

Two previous presidential elections in December and February failed because of low voter turnout. This time, only 48 percent of the 450,000 eligible voters turned up at the polls, but the law requiring at least a 50-percent turn-out had been abolished, and the results will count. The president has few real powers beyond representing Montenegro abroad.

Despite the secessionist sentiment among its leaders, Montenegro is under strong pressure from the European Union to stay united with Serbia and delay a vote on independence for at least three years.