Montenegrin Police Tear Gas Protest
October 25, 2015
by RFE/RL's Balkan Service
Police in Montenegro have fired teargas for a second successive weekend to break up a gathering of about 5,000 protesters who marched on the parliament to demand the resignation of veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and snap elections.
The rally began peacefully but turned violent late on October 24 after demonstrators attempted to break through a police cordon at the parliament building.
A Reuters correspondent reports seeing demonstrators hurl stones, flares, and an incendiary device at police near the legislature in Podgorica.
Interior Minister Rasko Konjevic told a news conference that 15 police officers were injured, one seriously, and that 24 civilians sought medical treatment.
Konjevic said Andrija Mandic, a leader of the Democratic Front opposition alliance that staged the protest, and his ally Slaven Radunovic were detained for questioning about their roles in the violence.
Konjevic called the violence "an evident attack on police and state property."
He said the country's chief prosecutor was evaluating the case.
Under Montenegrin law, Mandic enjoys immunity from arrest unless it is connected to a crime that is punishable by a prison term of more than five years.
The October 24 protest, which began at a central square in Podgorica, was held amid tight security -- with barricades placed around government buildings.
Protesters held Montenegrin and Serbian flags and chanted 'Milo is a thief,' referring to the prime minister.
Opposition leaders have accused Djukanovic of corruption and election fraud.
In September, protesters also rallied to press their demands fir the creation of an interim government along with early parliamentary elections.
The government has claimed the protests are supported by Russia and Serbia, and that they are aimed at preventing Montenegro from joining the NATO alliance.
Opposition leaders reject those allegations and accuse Djukanovic of running the country as a fiefdom with the political elite surrounding him.
Predrag Bulatovic, a lawmaker and member of the opposition Democratic Front coalition, told demonstrators at the October 24 rally that their gathering was 'not against Montenegro.'
Bulatovic said: 'We are defending Montenegro from the regime of Milo Djukanovic. We are not nationalists. This is a peaceful and non-violent but, still, a mass protest.'
In fact, the opposition movement includes some pro-Western parties as well as pro-Serbia elements who support close ties between Montenegro and Belgrade.
The pro-Serbia elements of the opposition also oppose Montenegrin recognition of Kosovo, a majority ethnic-Albanian country which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Djukanovic has been in power in Montenegro off and on, serving as both the prime minister and president, since 1991.
When he first emerged on the political scene, he was a close ally of the Yugoslav and Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
But Djukanovic turned against Milosevic in 1996, abandoning a joint Serbian and Montenegrin vision in favor of an independent Montenegro – overseeing Montenegro's increasing separation from Serbia that culminating with victory in a May 2006 independence referendum.
He retired from politics in late 2006, but returned to the prime minister's office again in February 2008.
He stepped down again in December 2010 before returning for a second time in December 2012.
Montenegro is a candidate to join the European Union and is expecting an invitation to join NATO.
Montenegro's next parliamentary elections have been scheduled for October 2016
With additional reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Balkan Insight
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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