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MONTENEGRO: SKULDUGGERY DOGS REFERENDUM

Podgorica, 24 April (AKI) - Montenegro opposition parties have presented a new evidence that the government has been buying votes in favour of independence at the forthcoming plebiscite scheduled for 21 May, as the debate between the "Yes" and "No" camps heats up. The opposition, which backs the continuation of the present state union with Serbia, over the weekend published clips of a film allegedly showing a government activist, Ivan Ivanovic, offering a 500 euros bribe to a local “unionist” politician in the town of Golubovci, south of the capital Podgorica.

The local politician who appears in the footage, Aleksandar Leka Cekovic, is a local leader of prime minister Milo Djukanovic’s Socialist Democrat party, was the protagonist of another film aired last month, in which government emissaries were shown offering another Golubovci resident, Musan Buskovic, to pay his 1,580 euro electricity bill if he voted for independence.

The latest film has yet to be aired, but some excerpts allegedly showing Ivanovic offering 500 euros to Cekovic not to come out and vote against independence were published by Podgorica daily Dan. “That’s for you from the government, to treat your children,” Ivanovic is reportedly heard saying. In return, he asked to take away identification cards from Cekovic and his family members, to make sure they can’t vote at the referendum.

Djukanovic has denied and poured scorn on the first film, shown on local television, saying it had been produced Serbian secret services with the aim of damaging the independence cause. The Serbian government, which wants to keep the present union with Montenegro, claims it won’t interfere in the referendum campaign, but has accused Djukanovic of resorting to illegal means to get his way.

Montenegro population of 620, 000 is split about half way over independence issue, and the latest opinion polls show Djukanovic is about ten percentage points short of victory. The European Union has proposed that at least 55 percent of the turnout voters should vote for independence to make the referendum valid.

Djukanovic has banned some 300,000 Montenegrins living in Serbia from voting in the referendum. According to the opposition, he has organised a vote buying campaign and is planning to fly in thousands of ethnic Albanians living in the USA and European countries to vote for independence.

The political standoff has been further inflamed by a visit by four opposition leaders, Predrag Popovic, Nebojsa Medojevic, Miodrag Lekic and Andrija Jovicevic to Washington last week, which angered Djukanovic and his supporters. At first, the government claimed the four had no official invitation to Washington at all, but were on a private visit. But when they were received by deputy under-secretary of state Rosemary di Carlo and other senior officials, Belgrade was blamed.

Independent analysts in Belgrade and Podgorica interpreted the visit as a sign that Washington might be sensing Djukanovic’s defeat and was opening towards the opposition. Earlier this month, Djukanovic stated that if less than 50 percent of citizens voted for independence, this would be a vote of no confidence in the current government and he would instruct Montenegro's president, Filip Vujanovic, to call early elections.

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