Montenegro heads for split from Serbia
Montenegro has voted for independence from its union with Serbia, according to unofficial projections.
Montenegro voted on Sunday to end its union with Serbia, according to an unofficial projection of the referendum result, a move which would complete the break-up of the last remnants of the former Yugoslavia.
The Centre for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID) and the Centre for Monitoring (CEMI) told a news conference the 'Yes" vote was an estimated 56.3% - surpassing the 55% threshold required for the outcome to be validated.
"The preliminary result is 56.3%, which means that we already have quite a stable situation with the proviso that this is not the final estimate," said Zlatko Vujovic of CEMI.
Waves of celebratory gunfire and fireworks thundered across the capital Podgorica moments after the unofficial result was broadcast.
If upheld by official results due early on Monday, the outcome will dissolve a partnership with Serbia going back to 1918 in various forms. Montenegro would be the last of ex-Yugoslavia's six federal republics to part company with Serbia since 1991.
The mountainous Adriatic republic has only 650,000 people but pro-independence leaders say it has a better chance of economic prosperity on its own than in a dysfunctional union with Serbia.
Crowds of mostly young people rushed towards the main boulevards of the capital in cars and on motorcycles.
Turnout was between 85 and 90%, referendum monitors said. Both camps had said they could benefit from a big vote.
The required 50% turnout was reached in the first few hours of voting. Under criteria agreed with the European Union, over 55% of voters must say "Yes" for independence to be uncontested.
No reports of trouble
There was little doubt ahead of the poll that the pro-independence camp would emerge stronger but the question was whether the "No" vote could deprive them of the 55% majority.
"This is a big day for Montenegro," said pro-independence champion Milo Djukanovic, the country's prime minister and former president. "Its answer to the referendum question will open the doors to Euro-Atlantic integration."
Queues had formed early at polling stations across the country. Elderly men dressed in their Sunday best filled in pink voting slips which asked simply: "Do you want Montenegro to be an independent state?" Answer yes or no.
There were no reports of trouble. Turnout was heaviest in the north, dominated by ethnic Serbs expected to reject a break with Serbia. In the south, minorities such as Albanians and Muslims were expected to vote overwhelmingly "Yes".
The union of Serbia-Montenegro, the last vestige of the former Yugoslavia, was created in 2003, but its two republics have been in some form of joint state for almost a century.
Serbia is the dominant partner in the union with 7.5 million people and an economy 10 times bigger. Its government has appealed to Montenegrins not to go.
Serbia-Montenegro was created with the mediation of the European Union, which was afraid of further fragmentation in the Balkans. Before that, the two neighbours were together under two monarchies, then in Tito's Yugoslavia and in the Yugoslav federation of late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Pro-unionists cherish the historical and cultural links with Serbia. Besides, they say, Montenegro needs the jobs, education and health care their neighbour can provide.Yet a divorce will have little practical effect. The republics already have different laws, policies and currencies, sharing only defence and diplomacy. The joint parliament rarely meets.