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Montenegro declares independence

Podgorica - The former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro declared independence Saturday to regain its sovereignty after 88 years and become the latest sovereign European nation.

Independence was declared by the parliament in a festive atmosphere, with live classical music and cocktails preceding the working part of the session. The new national anthem was played at the start of the legislative session.

A small crowd stood outside the building in pouring rain to watch the guests arrive. The session was boycotted by the opposition, which wanted Montenegro to remain in union with Serbia.

Montenegro declared independence following a May 21 referendum, in which 55.5 per cent of the votes cast were in favour of sovereignty. The declaration dissolved the union of Serbia and Montenegro (SCG), established in 2003 to replace the rump Yugoslavia.

The assembly first approved the report of the head of the referendum commission, Slovak diplomat Frantisek Lipka, followed by the vote on the declaration of independence.

Parliament also approved a set of basic principles, setting out the state's independent, democratic and civilian character and noting its desire for NATO and European Union membership.

Without the opposition, the vote was unanimously in favour of both declarations. Fireworks followed the expressly conducted session, which lasted less than 30 minutes.

Montenegrin government officials said they now expect recognition from the EU this month and a seat in the United Nations when the General Assembly convenes in September.

Montenegro's independence snuffs out the last vestige of the Yugoslav federation, which had existed in some form since December 1918. With it, Montenegro has regained the sovereignty it voluntarily gave up to join the federation after World War I.

The Serbian government is yet to definitely and unambiguously recognize Montenegrin independence. Belgrade, which inherited the SCG, did not send representatives to the ceremony in Podgorica despite invitations to participate.

A day earlier in Belgrade, EU top diplomat Javier Solana called on Serbia and Montenegro to build a 'constructive relationship' and swiftly resolve issues stemming from the dissolution of their union.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who continues to appear angry and frustrated over the decision of Montenegrin voters, refused any EU help in the dissociation process.

The name SCG will linger through the football World Cup in Germany and possibly the basketball world championships in August and September in Japan. SCG, invited on a wild card after a disaster last year at the home Euro, defends the basketball title won four years ago by Yugoslavia.

related news: Montenegro declares independence

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