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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Q&A: Montenegro referendum
Pro-independence supporter with photo of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic
Premier Djukanovic led the independence drive

Montenegro has voted for independence from its union with Serbia, according to near-complete official results.

What was at stake?

The union of Serbia and Montenegro was all that remained of the federation of six republics that made up Yugoslavia before the independence wars of the 1990s.

In terms of both population and area, Montenegro is very much overshadowed by Serbia, and many Montenegrins - including Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic - wanted their republic to make the final break and go it alone.

The pro-independence camp insisted that Montenegro was being held back by its association with Serbia.

Those in favour of preserving the union pointed to the strong historical links between Montenegrins and Serbs.

How did things stand before the vote?

The union of Serbia-Montenegro was formed in March 2003 as the successor state to Yugoslavia under the EU-brokered Belgrade Agreement.

According to the 2003 census, the population of Montenegro is 670,000, of whom 43% are Montenegrins, 32% Serbs, 14% Muslim Slav and 7% Albanians. The population of Serbia is nearly 10 million.

Despite the close historic ties between the two republics, Montenegro already enjoys a high level of autonomy and uses the euro as currency instead of the Serbian dinar.

Who was in favour of independence?

Broadly speaking, most ethnic Montenegrins and the Montenegrin government backed the drive to independence. The ethnic minorities were seen as mostly favouring independence, though some had expressed doubts over their status in an independent Montenegro.

During the early 1990s, the present Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic was a key ally of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and favoured the preservation of some form of federal state.

But as Mr Milosevic's policies attracted ever greater international condemnation, Mr Djukanovic gradually distanced himself from his former mentor and came to see Montenegrin independence as his ultimate goal.

Pro-union supporters wave EU flags at a rally
Pro-union supporters were behind in the polls

Who was opposed to it?

Those against independence tended to identify themselves as ethnically Serb and saw no real distinction between Serbs and Montenegrins.

Many are strong supporters of the Orthodox faith and see the historical and religious ties between Serbs and Montenegrins as being stronger than any divisions. They point out that the greatest Montenegrin historical figures often described themselves as Serbs.

The pro-union Montenegrin opposition regularly accuses Mr Djukanovic of seeking to set up his own "private state".

What is Serbia's position?

Serbia sees the Montenegrin independence drive as a stab in the back and believes that dissolution of the union will fuel Kosovo Albanian demands for independent statehood.

What line does the Orthodox Church take?

The official Montenegrin Orthodox Church is part of the Serbian Orthodox Church and is against independence.

An independent Montenegrin Orthodox Church was set up in 2000 with the backing of Mr Djukanovic. This supports independence but is regarded as a renegade body by the Orthodox Church globally.

What form did the referendum take?

On 21 May, a single question was put to voters: "Do you want the Republic of Montenegro to be an independent state with full international and legal subjectivity?"

A 55% majority was required for a "yes" vote to be accepted internationally. This figure was proposed by the EU after the two sides failed to reach agreement on what the threshold should be.

The Montenegrin diaspora had the right to vote - with the exception of Montenegrins living in Serbia, who were barred from voting in the referendum.

What about the Mladic factor?

The EU's suspension of talks on closer ties with Serbia on account of the Belgrade government's failure to arrest top war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic is seen by some analysts as having given a boost to the pro-independence campaign.

Mr Djukanovic has long maintained that an independent Montenegro stands a better chance of achieving EU membership than one linked to Serbia, and the EU's suspension of talks with Serbia is seen in some quarters as vindication of this argument.

What happens now?

Montenegro will now have to wait for reaction from the EU and Serbia. If these are positive, Montenegro's parliament will be convened to proclaim its independence.

According to their union's founding charter, Serbia will become the successor state, and Montenegro will need to apply for membership of the United Nations and other international institutions.

Serbia will also inherit the legal claim to UN-administered Kosovo whose future status is expected to be determined by the end of this year.

But Serbia will lose direct access to the Adriatic Sea - and granting special rights of access will give Montenegro a strong position in forthcoming talks on dividing the union's assets.

Meanwhile, Montenegro will have to wait for recognition by the EU before it can start its own preliminary talks with Brussels on eventual EU membership.

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