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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Profile: Montenegro PM Djukanovic
By Gabriel Partos
BBC South-East Europe analyst

Montenegro's PM Milo Djukanovic
Milo Djukanovic: Architect of Montenegro's secession
Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has spearheaded Montenegro's successful campaign for independence.

At the age of 44, he is already a veteran politician - having been appointed prime minister on his 29th birthday in 1991.

Apart from President Janez Drnovsek of Slovenia, he is the only leader of a former Yugoslav republic to have survived at the top since the break-up of the old federation in the early 1990s.

Initially, he was a protege of Slobodan Milosevic - the former Serbian president and strongman of the region.

When Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Hercegovina proclaimed their independence in 1991-92, Mr Djukanovic actively supported Montenegro's decision to stay with Serbia in the much-reduced Yugoslav federation.

It was also under his premiership that Montenegrin forces within the Yugoslav army took a key part in the siege of Croatia's historic port city Dubrovnik, and in the devastation of its hinterland in 1991.

Split with Milosevic

But Mr Djukanovic broke with the Milosevic regime in 1997, when Serbia's previously unbeaten, but now shaken, leader was trying to annul his opponents' victories in Serbia's municipal elections.

And later that year he defeated the pro-Milosevic incumbent, Momir Bulatovic, in Montenegro's presidential election, in a narrow victory.

Slobodan Milosevic
Slobodan Milosevic went from Djukanovic ally to foe
That was a bold move, since Mr Milosevic had at his disposal military force and economic resources to halt Montenegro's slide towards greater autonomy and independence - means he had previously employed against independence bids by Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia.

Mr Milosevic also encouraged pro-Belgrade elements in Montenegro, whose angry demonstrations against Mr Djukanovic's election came close to ending in large-scale violence.

By then, though, Mr Djukanovic had managed to gain control not only of Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists and its state administration but also its police, which helped him survive the challenge to his power.

Yet Mr Djukanovic was to show even greater political courage two years later.

Western support

During Nato's air strikes against Yugoslavia over Mr Milosevic's clamp-down on Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanian population, he declared that Montenegro was not a party to the conflict.

His firm stand during that critical period earned him much sympathy - and considerable financial support - from the European Union and United States.

Western admiration for Mr Djukanovic turned to frustration, though, when the Montenegrin leader insisted on pursuing independence even after Mr Milosevic fell from power in 2000.

The EU was concerned about the potentially destabilising impact of further fragmentation in the Balkans that Montenegro's independence might help engender.

Under pressure from the EU Mr Djukanovic agreed in 2002 to a revamping of Yugoslavia as a loosely-knit union of Serbia and Montenegro -- but only on condition that a referendum on independence could be held after three years.

The union was finally established in 2003, but Mr Djukanovic, by then serving again as prime minister, showed no signs of wanting to make it actually work.

Montenegro resisted holding direct elections to the union's parliament; a supreme court was never established; and the two republics continued to use different currencies and administer different customs duties.

Fresh tensions

Mr Djukanovic's reluctance to make the union function caused resentment among European politicians, who argued that it would be easier for Serbia and Montenegro to integrate with the EU if they stayed together.

That came on top of an earlier blow to his popularity among EU leaders following an announcement by an Italian magistrate that he was investigating Mr Djukanovic on charges of involvement in cigarette smuggling during the 1990s.

It is a charge Mr Djukanovic has vigorously denied.

Meanwhile, as the union's three-year trial period was about to end, Mr Djukanovic took another gigantic gamble earlier this year by yielding to the EU's insistence that the vote for independence should secure at least 55% of the turnout to be valid.

That was a huge risk, given that opinion polls were showing support for independence hovering around the 55% figure.

Mr Djukanovic has managed to clear that hurdle by just 2,000 votes.

Now he can lead his country to independence and - as he believes - his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) to another election victory the autumn.

How long Mr Djukanovic will continue as prime minister is another matter, as he has repeatedly hinted at plans to retire from politics and concentrate on business.

A tall, athletic figure, he would enjoy having more spare time to play basketball.

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