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Last Updated: Friday, 19 May 2006, 21:39 GMT 22:39 UK
Montenegro split ahead of vote
The BBC's Nick Hawton has been travelling around Montenegro assessing the mood of the people as they prepare to vote on what could be the final act in the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.

Town of Budva
Pro-independence Budva appears to be flourishing

This is a land of contrasts - from the beautiful coast with its natural harbours and wealthy tourists to its rugged mountains and impoverished inhabitants.

And wherever you go these days you will find a people divided - those who are desperate to see an independent Montenegro and those who want to see the continuing union between Serbia and Montenegro.

In the coastal town of Budva, the red and gold flags emblazoned with the crest of the Montenegrin Royal family - the symbol of the independence movement - are everywhere to be seen.

"We want independence. We want to have our own country. We want peace with our neighbours, like Serbia and Croatia, but we must have our own country. And this way our economy will improve," says Dragana, 45, from Budva who owns a local shop.

At the beach fish restaurant, Marjan Simoni is preparing lunch for a group of American tourists.

"Business has been getting better over the past few years. We have three restaurants. There are more and more foreign tourists coming here. Personally, I think we should have our own country and so we can look after our own affairs. We should be in charge of our own destiny. Independence will only improve business," says Marjan.

Bribe rumours

Mileta Ilic
It will be very bad if Montenegro becomes independent - Serbia will simply turn off the financial tap and Montenegro will have to try to get international loans and credit
Mileta Ilic
"No" supporter

Drive inland and pro-independence graffiti and billboards with the word "DA!" (meaning "Yes" for independence) line the route. Again, there are more red and gold flags.

But up in the steep, wooded mountains, heading closer to the border with Serbia, views begin to change.

The town of Kolasin is deeply divided over the issue. There has been tension between the two sides. Those against independence took down their own Serb flags so as to avoid clashes with neighbours across the street who had put up red flags.

"It will be very bad if Montenegro becomes independent," says 26-year-old Mileta Ilic, who is unemployed. "Serbia will simply turn off the financial tap and Montenegro will have to try to get international loans and credit," says Mileta, wearing his blue-and-white "NO" tee shirt.

Across Montenegro, rumours abound that both sides in the referendum have been offering bribes to their potential supporters.

Frustrated majority?

And even the transport system has become divided. Free railway tickets are being offered in Serbia for Montenegrins to return home to vote against independence. Meanwhile dozens of extra aircraft have been flying in Montenegrins living abroad, at no expense, so they can vote for independence.

Indeed, the result of the referendum may be very close and it could be the diaspora that ultimately decides the republic's fate. Montenegro has agreed with the European Union that for independence to be won they must achieve at least 55% of votes cast.

The big question is what happens if they achieve more than 50% but less than the required 55%. That could lead to a lot of frustrated people.

But so far the campaign has been relatively peaceful and its organisers are hoping it will stay that way.

In the capital, Podgorica, the two camps held large rallies to bring their campaigns to a close during the final week. Thousands turned out in the central square on separate nights, waving their flags and banners, in support of their cause.

And now everyone awaits Sunday's vote.


SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Montenegro referendum
19 May 06 |  Europe
Should Montenegro split from Serbia?
19 May 06 |  Have Your Say
Country profile: Serbia and Montenegro
16 May 06 |  Country profiles


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