Montenegro vote results pointing to independence

Group that backs creating new Balkan state leads early tally

April 23, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PODGORICA, Montenegro - Montenegro took a modest step toward independence yesterday, with early results in the general elections showing a majority of voters supporting parties that favor breaking from Yugoslavia.

The governing coalition headed by President Milo Djukanovic held a narrow lead last night with over half the ballots counted in what officials described as a vote with an exceptionally high turnout of 81 percent.

An adviser to the president, Miodrag Vukovic, claimed an early victory and said the coalition had won 43 percent of the early returns, predicting that Djukanovic would be able to form a majority government.

Vukovic said returns from urban areas - including Podgorica, the capital, and Niksic, the second city, which he expected to show a strong vote for the president - were among those still to come in. Independent election monitors gave Djukanovic 42 percent on a sample of approximately one-quarter of votes.

Djukanovic has made a determined bid for independence since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic as the president of Yugoslavia in October.

The results on Sunday may not please Western governments that have expressed concern that Montenegro's drive for independence could encourage other territories in the region, particularly Kosovo, to push more assertively for independence.

Djukanovic was clearly hoping that yesterday's election results, which would determine whether he called immediately for a referendum on independence, would provide him some room to maneuver, making his margin of victory crucial.

But early results also showed that the Montenegrin people remained deeply split on the issue of secession from Yugoslavia, which also includes Montenegro's much larger sister republic, Serbia.

The opposition coalition, which campaigned to remain in Yugoslavia, won just over 40 percent of the vote so far, according to monitors from the Center for Monitoring and the Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy.

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