Monday, November 28, 2005

Slovenian president in Montenegro; pro-Serb opposition protests his support for Kosovo independence

PODGORICA, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek visited Montenegro on Monday as several hundred pro-Serb opposition supporters rallied in protest against his stance for independence for Serbia's southern province of Kosovo.

Drnovsek was greeted by Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic and was to talk later with Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, both of whom are campaigners for Montenegro's independence from Serbia.

Police held protesters, gathered outside the Montenegrin parliament, away from the entrance, while they chanted: "Go Home, Drnovsek, Kosovo is Serbian."

Andrija Mandic, from the Serbian National Party which called the rally, accused Drnovsek of "going hand-in-hand with (ethnic) Albanian extremists" in his recent comments that independence was the "only realistic option" for Kosovo, currently run by the U.N. and NATO.

Belgrade last month canceled a planned visit by Drnovsek to the Serbian capital, accusing him of "interference" that could prejudice the U.N.-mediated talks on Kosovo's final status.

Kosovo has been run by a U.N. mission and NATO peacekeepers since a 1999 air war halted Serbia's crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians, but its status remains deeply contested, with the province's majority ethnic Albanians demanding full independence while Belgrade insists it remain within Serbia. The province's future is to be decided after U.N.-mediated negotiations between Belgrade and Kosovo Albanian leaders, expected to start early next year.

Slovenia declared independence from the old Yugoslav federation in 1991, while Montenegro stayed in a loose union with Serbia. But relations deteriorated, with Montenegrin leaders pushing for independence.

The EU has tried to talk Montenegro out of opting for secession, fearing new Balkan tensions, but Vujanovic and Djukanovic are committed to holding the independence referendum in April 2006.

While touring the Montenegrin medieval statehood seat of Cetinje with Vujanovic, Drnovsek said that Montenegro "has a right to self-determination but the decision must be made in a democratic way."

Drnovsek also tried to tone down his comments on Kosovo, saying he had proposed a "conditional independence for a five-year trial period," after which the international community would judge whether the province had made enough progress to stand alone.

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