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The BBC's Paul Anderson
"The opinion polls have predicted a comfortable victory"
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The BBC's Jim Fish
reports from Podgorica, Capital of Montenegro
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Sunday, 22 April, 2001, 22:20 GMT 23:20 UK
Djukanovic claims victory
Djukanovic has already distanced Montenegro from Serbia
The ruling coalition in Montenegro - the junior partner in the Yugoslav Federation - has claimed victory in parliamentary elections.

President Djukanovic's party and his coalition partners favour independence from the rest of Yugoslavia.

Turn out was high despite heavy rain
They based their statement on early exit polls following a huge turnout of more than 70% of about 440,000 registered voters.

According to unofficial results the coalition is claiming to have won 51% of the popular vote, with just over half of the votes counted.

If these early trends are backed up officially in the next few hours, the governing coalition would be swept back to power with an increased majority and a mandate to call a referendum on independence, perhaps as early as June.

On Sunday, Mr Djukanovic emerged from casting his vote in the capital, Podgorica, saying he was confident the poll was being conducted in a democratic fashion.

Djukanovic confident

He underlined his commitment to a referendum, and said Montenegro could never be on equal terms with Serbia, which has a population 15 times bigger.

Mr Djukanovic turned against the then Serb President, Slobodan Milosevic, four years ago, when the Belgrade authorities faced huge public protests when they attempted to deny the opposition's electoral victories in Serbia's municipal elections.

Since then he has gradually distanced his party - and the Montenegrin state - from Serbia, its partner within the Yugoslav federation.

Predrag Bulatovic
Bulatovic: Says Montenegro is not strong enough by itself

Predrag Bulatovic, leader of the main pro-Yugoslav group, the Socialist People's Party (SNP), was also confident of victory.

He said the polls "can significantly define the future of Montenegro, but they are not definitive and final.

"I expect that, after the elections, peace and stability will prevail in Montenegro, whatever the results."

Separatists fear

Pro-Yugoslav campaigners stress the close historical, cultural and family links between Montenegro and Serbia.

They argue that Montenegro, a republic with a population of just 650,000, would not be economically viable as an independent entity.

Many Western leaders agree, and fear that Montenegrin independence would encourage ethnic separatists elsewhere in the Balkans.

The only obstacle to a clean break with Serbian led Yugoslavia, would be a less than convincing win in the referendum.

This would enable a pro-Yugoslav opposition to reject the outcome as an insufficient mandate for independence.

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20 Apr 01 | Europe
Montenegro's tourism hopes
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