Montenegro's special prosecutor on Monday received permission from a parliamentary council to strip immunity from two pro-Russian opposition leaders charged in an alleged sedition plot.
Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic wants immunity lifted from Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic as part of efforts to detain the pair and place them on trial for "acts against constitutional order and security of Montenegro." Katnic says both leaders of the pro-Kremlin Democratic Front (DF), which oppose the nation's bid to become the 29th NATO member, have undermined national security.
A frequent visitor to Russia, Mandic, who returned from Moscow earlier this month, has warned of mounting political tensions in the Western Balkan country of 620,000 people, who are divided over joining the Brussels-based military alliance.
Some 20 people — mostly Serbian nationals, including two Russian citizens — have been accused of participating in an October plot that allegedly included plans to kill the prime minister and assume power.
Both men have dismissed the charges as "fiction," and Kremlin officials have denied involvement in the alleged coup plot. Russian leaders have, however, supported DF calls to hold a referendum on Montenegro's NATO membership, and Mandic has threatened to organize one without parliamentary approval.
Fellow opposition leader Nebojsa Medojevic told journalists that Katnic and pro-NATO authorities "are provoking a civil war in Montenegro."
"If the violence becomes official state policy, the answer to it can be also violence," Medojevic announced at a Monday press conference, where he was joined by Knezevic, who said he had no intention of leaving the country but warned authorities to beware the long-term consequences of lifting immunity.
Mandic, who was not at Monday's news conference, told VOA's Serbian Service by phone from Belgrade that he was boarding a return flight to Podgorica, where he'll discuss the charges at a Tuesday press conference.
The decision to formally lift immunity will be put to a full parliamentary vote February 15.
Montenegro is expecting to wrap up the NATO membership process by May.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Serbian Service. Some information for this report was provided by AP.