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news 15 Feb 17

Montenegro Opposition to Boycott Poll Over ‘Coup’ Claims

Montenegro’s opposition has decided to boycott local elections in the country’s second city, Niksic, over an attempt to prosecute two opposition MPs suspected of involvement in an alleged coup plot.

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
Photo: Montenegrin Parliament.

The opposition announced its boycott ahead of a parliamentary session on Wednesday at which Montenegrin lawmakers are expected to vote on a motion to strip two opposition leaders of their immunity from prosecution over their alleged involvement in a coup attempt on election day, October 16.

MPs are to vote on the motion filed by the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, Milivoje Katnic, which asks for the leaders of the pro-Russian opposition Democratic Front alliance, Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, to be detained and put on trial.

The motion was approved by a Montenegrin parliamentary committee on Monday, and the ruling pro-Western coalition has a stable majority to enable it to have the decision confirmed in parliament.

But after an emergency meeting on Tuesday, all the opposition parties decided to boycott upcoming municipal polls on March 12 in Niksic, the second largest city in Montenegro, over the prosecution move to prosecute Mandic and Knezevic.

The opposition claims it has the chance to win the election in Niksic and accuses the prosecution of working in favour of former PM Milo Djukanovic's ruling Democratic Party of Socialists.

The opposition has already been boycotting parliament for over five months and refusing to recognise the results of October’s general election, alleging vote-rigging.

The vice-president of the opposition centre-left Social Democratic Party, former finance minister Rasko Konjevic, urged Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic to withdraw the decision to hold the elections in Niksic next month.

“It would be normal that a person who should be the president of all citizens understands this decision [to boycott] and at the very least postpones the  Niksic elections,” Konjevic said.

The two MPs who have been accused, Mandic and Knezevic, are the leaders of the main opposition alliance which strongly opposes the country’s NATO membership bid and advocates closer ties with Russia.

In the motion sent to parliament on Monday, the special prosecution claimed that both are suspected of "establishing a criminal organisation" and being involved in attempts to undermine "the constitutional rule and security of Montenegro".

The prosecution said that a group of Serbs, Montenegrins and Russians tried to organise a coup on election day, October 16. It claimed the security services had thwarted the coup after the arrest of 20 Serbian citizens, including a former Serbian police general, Bratislav Dikic.

Both Mandic and Knezevic have dismissed the plot allegations as false. They said on Monday they won't try to flee the country to avoid arrest.

"I have no intention of going anywhere. Those who come to arrest me must be ready for that task," Knezevic told reporters.

After returning from Belgrade late on Monday, Mandic said that everything related to the lifting of the men’s immunity was a show organised by Djukanovic.

The Democratic Front has accused the prosecutor's office acting under the influence of the still-powerful former PM.

It has said that Djukanovic is “threatening to drag Montenegro into civil war”.

“If violence becomes state policy, the answer to this could be violence,” it warned.

Responding to the accusation that the prosecution is under the political influence of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, the Supreme State Prosecutor, Ivica Stankovic, asked for patience and promised that all evidence on the two politicians will be presented to the court.

“The side chosen by the state prosecutors is solely the side of law and constitutional norms,” Stankovic said.

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