May 24, 2006

Montenegrin opposition to appeal independence vote

PODGORICA, Serbia-Montenegro (Reuters) - Montenegro's
opposition, which refuses to accept referendum results showing
the country voted for independence, said on Wednesday it would
seek a re-run in dozens of polling stations.

Official preliminary figures say 55.5 percent of voters in
the Adriatic republic opted for ending its union from much
larger Serbia, just above the 55 percent requirement set by the
European Union for recognition of the result.

Predrag Bulatovic, the leader of the pro-union bloc, said
tens of thousands of votes were in question in several towns
where the pro-independence side had a significant lead.

"We are asking for a repeat of the vote in dozens of
polling stations," Bulatovic told a news conference, adding
they suspected irregularities in voters' lists such as double
registrations and illegal entries.

Appeals must be sent to the referendum commission by
Wednesday evening. The commission then has 24 hours to decide
on the complaints.

International monitors have given the referendum their
stamp of approval. Miroslav Lajcak, the European Union envoy
who brokered the terms of the vote, said "stories about stolen
votes were frivolous."

"They have the right to complain but not to decide, because
that is done by the referendum commission and the
constitutional court," Lajcak told Montenegrin media.

In Serbia, which was slowly coming to terms that Montenegro
had decided to go it alone, President Boris Tadic has already
accepted the referendum result, which would close the final
chapter in the breakup of federal Yugoslavia.

But Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said he would accept
the outcome only once it was final, and a member of his party
said the difference between the Yes and No votes was very small
and the result could be overturned if appeals were successful.

The EU has welcomed the referendum which it called
"successful." Enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said
Montenegro could continue pre-membership talks, which were
halted for the union because Serbia failed to deliver Bosnian
Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic as it had promised.