Montenegro's leader aims for fast-track entry to EU

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The former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro has taken a decisive step towards becoming a member of the EU after the staunchly pro-European Milo Djukanovic was elected Prime Minister in the first general election since independence.

"This is a triumph of pro-European policy in Montenegro," Mr Djukanovic said as he addressed supporters in the capital, Podgorica, early yesterday.

His governing coalition won 41 out of 81 parliamentary seats in the election held at the weekend. The remaining 40 seats will be divided between three major opposition parties as well as a host of smaller parties split down ethnic lines.

Serbia and Montenegro were the only remnants of the former six-member Yugoslav federation which fell apart in the wars of the 1990s.

Mr Djukanovic, one of the great survivors of Balkan politics who has in effect led Montenegro continuously for the past 15 years, campaigned vigorously for Montenegrin independence.

"Montenegro is firm in its European path and ... with such a strong support by its citizens, can make crucial steps towards European integration," Mr Djukanovic said as hundreds of supporters lined the streets and chanted his name to celebrate victory.

In the election campaign, Mr Djukanovic stood on a platform of fast-track integration, promising the signing of the association and stabilisation agreement with the EU by the end of the year. Of all the former Yugoslav republics, Slovenia is the only one so far to have joined the bloc.

According to analysts, voters in the tiny nation of 650,000 people believed that Mr Djukanovic was the only person capable of leading them into the EU - just as he led them to independence.

Montenegro is on course to become the only country in the region ruled by the same man for almost 20 years. Mr Djukanovic has been in power since 1991. The 44-year-old leader has already served his nation as prime minister for 11 years and as president for four, between 1998 and 2002.