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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
Montenegro vote result confirmed
Montenegrin pro-independence supporters celebrate in the town of Cetinje
Pro-independence celebrations began on Monday
Montenegro has narrowly voted for independence from Serbia in an historic referendum, complete official results have confirmed.

The full count gave 55.5% in favour of breaking the union with Belgrade. The required margin for victory was 55%.

A dispute over 19,000 votes in the capital Podgorica delayed announcement of the final results on Monday.

The European Commission said Montenegro could begin talks with the EU on closer ties and eventual membership.

"The European perspective is open to Montenegro," enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said.

Serbia has seen its EU ambitions hampered by the failure to arrest key war crimes suspects, but Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic was optimistic about his nation's prospects.

"I am convinced Montenegro could be the next country from this region to join the European Union, after Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia, which are further along the process," he told Reuters news agency.

Recount rejected

The question of independence has deeply divided Montenegro, with opponents arguing it will damage economic, family and political ties with Serbia.

Things will get worse for Montenegro now, I believe
Dejan Knezevic, Niksic, Montenegro

A demand by pro-Serbian unionist parties for a full recount was rejected by the referendum commission.

But Vladeta Jankovic, an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said Serbia would respect the result.

"I don't expect anyone to object to Montenegrin independence," he told the BBC.

"In Serbia proper there is nearly a million people who are either of Montenegrin origin or in other ways very closely connected to Montenegro, but there is certainly no bad blood about it."

'Fair' poll

The head of the referendum commission, Frantisek Lipka, said that the completed preliminary results showed 230,711 people, 55.5%, voted for Montenegro to become an independent state.

He said 184,954 voters, 44.5%, had voted to remain with Serbia.

The results will be made final on Saturday after the expiry of a period in which they can be challenged.

Turnout was 86.3%.

The final result had been expected on Monday evening, but was delayed because of a dispute over votes from 37 polling stations in Podgorica.

Several leaders of the pro-union bloc led by the Socialist People's Party signed a statement calling for a recount of the ballots.

But Mr Lipka dismissed their complaints, and the final result received the backing of European Parliament observers and the EU's Austrian presidency.


Indications that the pro-independence bloc may have won the vote prompted celebrations in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, on Monday.

A Montenegrin man dressed in traditional uniform to cast his ballot in Podgorica

Prime Minister Djukanovic said the poll showed that "the independence of the country has been renewed".

He argued that an independent Montenegro - which has a population of fewer than 700,000 people - would have a stronger economy and be a better candidate for admission into the European Union.

The process of disentangling Montenegro and Serbia is likely to involve detailed negotiations between the two governments, the BBC's Nick Hawton in Montenegro says.

But the strong social and economic links between the two peoples is unlikely to be significantly affected, at least in the short term, he adds.

Serb politicians, Orthodox church leaders and Montenegrins from the mountainous inland regions bordering Serbia broadly opposed secession.

However, ethnic Montenegrins and Albanians from the coastal area largely backed the prime minister and favoured independence.

Montenegro's loose union with Serbia was established in 2003, replacing what was left of the former Yugoslavia.

The last time Montenegro was independent was nearly 90 years ago at the end of World War I, when it was absorbed into the newly formed Yugoslavia.

Pro-independent supporters celebrate

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