June 3, 2006

Montenegro declares independence

PODGORICA (Reuters) - The former Yugoslav republic of
Montenegro declared independence on Saturday when its
parliament adopted the May 21 national referendum decision to
end a partnership with Serbia going back to 1918.

Opposition members opposed to the dissolution of the union
boycotted the evening assembly session in the Adriatic coast
republic in protest. Pro-independence members wore red lapel
rosettes and Montenegrins celebrated outside the parliament.

The mountainous republic of 650,000 people, about the size
of Northern Ireland, is the last of ex-Yugoslavia's constituent
republics to leave the orbit of Belgrade.

In the case of Montenegro, Serbia's closest ally, the split
ends a long, fraternal partnership whose dissolution was
opposed by ethnic Serbs who live in Montenegro.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica responded
frostily to the Montenegrin decision and on Friday rebuffed
European Union offers to assist the two countries in a "velvet
divorce," indicating the parting will be correct but not

His Montenegrin counterpart Milo Djukanovic, the champion
of the independence drive, had invited Kostunica to Montenegro
for a reception following parliament's declaration.

But neither Kostunica nor Serbian President Boris Tadic
were on hand, although Tadic has recognized the vote and
already visited Montenegro following the referendum.

Saturday's declaration was a relatively low-profile event.

When preliminary referendum resulted were released two
weeks ago, the capital Podgorica celebrated with noisy car
cavalcades, fireworks and Balkan-style celebratory gunfire.

Montenegro plans to have its main independence day bash on
July 13, currently its "statehood day," with foreign
dignitaries in attendance.