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Montenegro declares independence

Written by: Staff

PODGORICA, June 3 (Reuters) The former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro declared independence today when its parliament adopted the May 21 national referendum decision to end a partnership with Serbia going back to 1918.

Opposition members opposed to the dissolution of the union boycotted the evening assembly session in the Adriatic coast republic in protest. Pro-independence members wore red lapel rosettes and Montenegrins celebrated outside the parliament.

The mountainous republic of 650,000 people, about the size of Northern Ireland, is the last of ex-Yugoslavia's constituent republics to leave the orbit of Belgrade.

In the case of Montenegro, Serbia's closest ally, the split ends a long, fraternal partnership whose dissolution was opposed by ethnic Serbs who live in Montenegro.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica responded frostily to the Montenegrin decision and yesterday rebuffed European Union offers to assist the two countries in a ''velvet divorce'', indicating the parting will be correct but not amicable.

His Montenegrin counterpart Milo Djukanovic, the champion of the independence drive, had invited Kostunica to Montenegro for a reception following parliament's declaration.

But neither Kostunica nor Serbian President Boris Tadic were on hand, although Tadic has recognised the vote and already visited Montenegro following the referendum.

Today's declaration was a relatively low-profile event.

When preliminary referendum resulted were released two weeks ago, the capital Podgorica celebrated with noisy car cavalcades, fireworks and Balkan-style celebratory gunfire.

Montenegro plans to have its main independence day bash on July 13, currently its ''statehood day'', with foreign dignitaries in attendance.

Reuters PDS VP0010

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