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Montenegro Independence Supporters Celebrate Victory

Montenegro has voted for independence from Serbia, according to results announced by an unofficial group monitoring the Sunday referendum. If the result is confirmed by the official figures, it would complete the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

Two independent observers, the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy and the Centre for Monitoring told reporters that the pro-independence camp won the balloting by slightly more than the 55 percent threshold required for the outcome to be validated.

But the anti-independence camp refused to concede defeat. Opposition leader Predrag Bulatovic said rejoicing by the independence voters was premature and urged them to go home.

He warned that independence will lead to new divisions along ethnic lines and artificial borders.

"More than 70 percent of the people living here have relatives in Serbia," said Predrag Bulatovic. "They will be turned into foreigners. It would be bad for both of us."

Even within the European Union there are concerns an independent Montenegro will create more instability in the Balkans and encourage Serbs in nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina to seek reunification with Serbia and Kosovo to secede from Serbia.

However, Montenegro's pro-independence Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic says as a separate country, Montenegro will be able to speed up reforms and boost the economy. Mr. Djukanovic said his country could be among the first Balkan nations to join the EU.

"Montenegro has already achieved a lot on the way to EU membership and after independence with self responsibility as a small flexible system," said Milo Djukanovic. "It will be able to accomplish all its obligations quickly and in the process EU integration. Montenegro will show that it will be the first country in this region after Croatia to fulfill the conditions to become a member of the European Union."

Some skeptics say Montenegro, which has only 650,000 people, is too small to be viable as an independent state. But young people, like this woman, disagree.

"I think it is important living in a small country, and having everything in this small country," she said. "And everybody is going to like this small country, because we had enough problems I think."

Montenegro's independence would come as a major disappointment for Serbia, the dominant partner in the union with over seven million people and an economy 10 times bigger than Montenegro's. The Serbian government had appealed to Montenegrins not to leave the fragile union.

As the rump of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro was created with the help of the European Union, which feared further fragmentation in the Balkans, following the bloody break up of Yugoslavia.