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Last Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
Montenegro PM claims poll victory
Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic waving
Mr Djukanovic declared victory to crowds of gathered supporters
Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has claimed victory in the country's first general election since independence was declared in May.

Mr Djukanovic said his party had won an absolute majority in a "triumph of pro-European policy in Montenegro".

The official results have not been announced, but a leading monitoring body said it projects a Djukanovic win.

The Center for Democratic Transition said the ruling coalition had won 41 seats in the 81-seat state assembly.

Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the vote was "largely in line with international standards", despite some shortcomings.

The former Yugoslav republic decided in a referendum in May to break away from its union with Serbia, and the election was seen a test of Mr Djukanovic's popularity in the wake of that landmark move.

'Great survivor'

Hundreds of supporters chanted Mr Djukanovic's name as he came to address them in the main government building in the capital, Podgorica, and declare victory.

The destiny's now in their hands, now they have to do something about it.
Lisa McLean
Political analyst

He said the elections proved Montenegro was politically very stable and that it was now firmly on the European track.

His governing coalition has promised to seek rapid integration within the European Union and Nato, and to crack down on organised crime.

Pro-Serb opposition parties had said that, if they won, they could hold a referendum on restoring links with Serbia.

The BBC's Nick Hawton in Podgorica says that if Mr Djukanovic's election victory is confirmed, it will be a remarkable achievement for one of the great survivors of Balkan politics, who has in effect led Montenegro for the past 15 years without interruption.

State officials say there have been no major voting irregularities reported, but monitoring groups say the turnout was below that for May's referendum.

According to the independent Center for Monitoring, about 70% of Montenegro's 485,000 electorate cast their ballot before polls closed at 2100 (1900 GMT).

The independence referendum saw an 85% turnout.

Political analyst Lisa McLean told the BBC that now the independence issue has been resolved, whoever wins the election will have to focus on the key issues of the economy and corruption.

"There are no more excuses now because that issue is off the table and ... you can't blame Serbia any more," she said.

"Even the prime minister used to say in the campaign we want to take our destiny into our own hands. Well, the destiny's now in their hands, now they have to do something about it."

Arrests made

Meanwhile, 12 ethnic Albanians - including two US nationals - have been arrested in the border town of Tuzi, in the Albanian-dominated south of the country, Montenegrin police report.

A Montenegrin policeman stands by what officials say are weapons seized in Saturday's raid
Police say weapons were seized during Saturday's raid

They said the suspects were detained on terror charges in Saturday's raid, and that weapons and ammunition were seized.

Two ethnic Albanian parties protested against the arrests, saying that they were "politically motivated" and aimed at putting pressure on their supporters ahead of the election.

In a joint statement, the parties called for the immediate release of the suspects, saying that they had been detained on "rigged accusations".

Speaking in Podgorica, opposition leader Predrag Bulatovic said the arrests were "directly linked to the election process, as those detained are known activists of the anti-regime party".

But Mr Djukanovic denied this was the case, saying that the police "have professionally and efficiently done their job".

"Life does not halt in the days before the elections. Thieves steal on these days, murderers kill... and those ready to execute terrorist actions are preparing for that," Mr Djukanovic told reporters.




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