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Friday, October 28, 2016

Montenegro's long-ruling prime minister to step down

October 26, 2016

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Montenegro's prime minister Milo Djukanovic, who led the tiny Adriatic nation to independence from Serbia in 2006, will step down after ruling unchallenged for more than 25 years, his party officials said Wednesday.

The Democratic Party of Socialists has named Djukanovic's deputy, Dusko Markovic, as a possible premier-designate after the Oct. 16 parliamentary election ended inconclusively. The pro-Western party won most seats in Parliament, but will need to seek a coalition to remain in power.

The ruling party did not give a reason for Djukanovic's departure and he did not comment. The Adriatic nation of 650,000 people was a rare former Yugoslav republic that split peacefully from Serbia, avoiding bloodshed that followed similar moves by Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Montenegro has since been invited to join NATO and has launched membership negotiations with the European Union, to the dismay of its traditional ally Russia and Serbian nationalists. Djukanovic has billed the last election as crucial for the country's future — whether it will continue on the pro-Western path, or shift back to Russian influence.

Djukanovic suggested Tuesday that Russia was involved in an alleged coup attempt on the country's election day and accused the opposition of collaborating with the Kremlin. He said there was "a strong connection of a foreign factor" in the alleged overthrow attempt on the election day, which was marked by the arrest of 20 people suspected of planning armed attacks against Djukanovic and his supporters after vote results were announced.

The opposition has claimed that Djukanovic wants to cling to power at all costs to avoid prosecution for alleged widespread crime and corruption during his long rule. Djukanovic, 54, has resigned twice in the past, but returned as either prime minister or president.

Once an ally of Serbia's strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Djukanovic became the youngest prime minister in Europe at the age of 29 in 1991. He was elected Montenegro's president in 1998, before again assuming the premier's job in 2002. He left in 2006, saying he has accomplished his task of leading Montenegro to independence, but came back and was elected premier in 2008 and in 2012.

Political analysts believe that Djukanovic might stage another comeback at presidential elections in 2018.

AP Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.

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