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Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has announced that he is stepping down as head of the country's government, after dominating the political scene for nearly two decades.
Djukanovic told reporters in Podgorica that he was stepping down but would remain head of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists.
"The decision is not a sudden or rushed one, nor was it made under pressure from anyone, as some maliciously claim," he said.
It is expected that he will submit his resignation to the parliament and that the new mandate to form a government will be given to Finance Minister Igor Luksic.
At the press conference on Monday, Djukanovic put forward Luksic as his successor, and the ruling party will decide on the proposal this evening and send the candidate to President Filip Vujanovic, who is responsible for naming the country's prime minister.
Reflecting on what he had achieved as premier, Djukanovic told reporters: "I am leaving power with a clear conscience and my head up... I cannot say that what I did for Montenegro was the best, but it was the most I could do."
This is Djukanovic's second withdrawal after he stepped down as prime minister in 2006. He subsequently returned to office in February 2008. Before that departure, Djukanovic served three consecutive terms as prime minister, from 1991 to 1998, and was the country's president from 1998 to 2002.
Djukanovic has long been dogged by suspicions that he was involved in tobacco smuggling in the region, and has been investigated by Italian prosecutors.
In a book titled 'Mafia Export', Francesco Forgione, a former Italian MP who led the Italian parliament's anti-mafia commission from 2006 to 2008, sheds light on organised crime and cites the Montenegrin mafia and Djukanovic as two of the organisers of an international cigarette smuggling route between 1994 and 2000.
Forgione also claims that Djukanovic has not testified more often before the Italian courts in a long-running tobacco smuggling case because he is protected by the immunity granted by his position.
The prosecutor in Bari, Giuseppe Scelsi, has included Djukanovic in his investigation because of the prime minister's alleged role in the smuggling. The trial began in November 2001. Djukanovic went to Bari in March 2008 to answer questions from the prosecution. Soon after that, the case as it concerned him was suspended when he became prime minister in February 2008.
“Milo Djukanovic is protected by immunity while he is the prime minister and head of government. The moment he no longer has immunity, he will be able to be tried in a special trial. The trial will be different from the one that involves seven citizens from Montenegro and Serbia, which began on November 11 ,” Scelsi told Podgorica daily Dan in November 2009.
The man who became Montenegro’s prime minister at 29 is at last bowing out, though questions remain about his business activities and the fortune he accumulated in his long career.
To keep its reform policy credible for investors, the government must find common ground with the IMF and look for a new arrangement, experts say.