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In Montenegro Veteran PM stepping down for new govt - party

Montenegro was invited to join NATO in December, a decision yet to be ratified by Podgorica and existing member-states.

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Montenegro Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has long dominated the small Balkan country, serving several times as premier and once as president since 1991 play

Montenegro Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has long dominated the small Balkan country, serving several times as premier and once as president since 1991

(AFP/File)

Montenegro's veteran leader Milo Djukanovic will not continue as prime minister in the next government according to his party, which topped recent parliamentary polls.

The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) late Tuesday said the party's management had decided to propose Djukanovic's deputy and former national security chief, Dusko Markovic, as candidate for prime minister-designate.

A party committee was expected to approve the decision later Wednesday.

Markovic, a close ally of Djukanovic, would then be tasked with forming a new government after the DPS took just 36 of the 81 seats in parliament, meaning it requires coalition partners to rule.

Djukanovic, who was set to remain party leader, has long dominated the small Balkan country, serving several times as premier and once as president since 1991.

The 54-year-old twice previously stepped down as prime minister but retained party leadership -- once in 2006 and again in 2010 -- both times returning to power after a two-year break.

He led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2006 and has since brought it to the doorstep of NATO and European Union membership, but his critics accuse him of corruption, cronyism and links to widespread organised crime.

Djukanovic, who faced large anti-government rallies last year, pitched the recent election as a choice between ties with the West or with traditional Slavic ally Russia, whom he accuses of funding opposition parties.

Mystery plot

The vote was marred by Montenegrin police's arrest of 20 Serbians accused of planning anti-government attacks. Their detentions were dismissed by the opposition as DPS propaganda.

Fourteen of the those arrested, including retired Serbian police chief Bratislav Dikic, have been placed under one-month detention while the other six were released.

Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic initially questioned the timing of the arrests, but said earlier this week that authorities in Belgrade had also made detentions over "illegal activities" prepared for Montenegro.

Vucic did not give more details about those arrested, but said there was evidence that certain people had "followed the movements of Montenegro's prime minister".

Montenegro was invited to join NATO in December, a decision yet to be ratified by Podgorica and existing member-states.

The Democratic Front, Montenegro's main opposition bloc which won 18 seats, openly calls for closer ties with Russia and is against membership of either the EU or NATO, calling for a referendum on joining military alliance.

Other opposition groups have more nuanced positions -- some are pro-EU but would also like a referendum on NATO.

The issue of NATO accession divides the country's 620,000 people, who remember the alliance's 1999 bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, of which Montenegro was then part.

Critics however accuse Djukanovic of exploiting geopolitical rivalries as a way to distract from domestic problems and economic woes, which weigh more heavily on the population.

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