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Tuesday, May 19, 1998 Published at 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK

World: Europe

Montenegro: whither Yugoslavia?

As the sacking of the Yugoslav Prime Minister, Radoje Kontic, provokes angry reaction in Montenegro, the BBC's south-east Europe analyst, Gabriel Partos, looks at the latest twists in the Yugoslav power struggle.

Montenegro's President, Milo Djukanovic, has already said his republic will not accept the dismissal of the federal prime minister - a move widely seen as part of an ongoing conflict between Montenegro's reformist leadership and Yugoslavia's strongman, President Slobodan Milosevic.

Mr Milosevic and Mr Djukanovic have been at odds for more than a year - since the Montenegrin leader publicly criticised the Belgrade authorities for trying to cancel the Serbian opposition's victories in municipal elections.

Djukovic's drive to reform

Mr Djukanovic has been pursuing a reformist course hoping to open up Montenegro to foreign trade and investment and to carve out an increasing amount of self-government for his republic.

This has become all the more important given that Mr Milosevic's refusal to comply with international requirements over Kosovo, peace implementation in Bosnia and the extradition of suspected war criminals has left in place a number of sanctions on Yugoslavia. Most of these are also hurting Montenegro.

For his part, Mr Milosevic remains reluctant either to change his policies in line with Montenegro's wishes or to extend genuine power sharing at the federal level.

However, the federal authorities are, in constitutional terms, weak when compared with the republican governments of Serbia and its junior partner, Montenegro. So Mr Milosevic's attempts have been aimed at bolstering his supporters' position in Montenegro.

However, he suffered a serious defeat at the end of last year when his closest Montenegrin associate, Momir Bulatovic, was narrowly beaten by Mr Djukanovic in the presidential race.

Echoes of the past

One reason that has been advanced for Monday's dismissal of Radoje Kontic was that he failed to introduce a state of emergency in Montenegro in a bid to prevent Mr Djukanovic becoming president.

Be that as it may, Mr Kontic has publicly taken no position either way in the power struggle. And now President Milosevic looks set to replace him with a figure from Mr Bulatovic's party who would be 100% behind the Milosevic line.

The legality of Mr Kontic's dismissal is, at the very least, highly questionable. Monday's vote in the federal assembly could only be passed with the support of Montenegrin delegates from Mr Bulatovic's party who had already been recalled by Montenegro.

Furthermore, the move comes at a particularly sensitive time - just two weeks before Montenegro's parliamentary elections, due on 31 May.

Mr Milosevic's latest steps appear to be aimed at destabilizing the position of his increasingly determined adversary, Mr Djukanovic. In the process, he is trying to impose his will on another republic - strong-arm tactics that led to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia of six republics in 1991-92.

Montenegro has more in common with Serbia than any of the other former Yugoslav republics; yet Mr Milosevic's uncompromising policies are pushing Montenegro more and more in the direction of seeking to loosen its links with Belgrade.

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