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Montenegrin lawmakers approve new pro-NATO government

Associated Press Associated Press 4 days ago By PREDRAG MILIC, Associated Press

PODGORICA, Montenegro — Montenegrin lawmakers on Monday swore in a pro-NATO government amid political tensions following an alleged foiled election-day coup orchestrated by Russian nationalists to derail the Balkan country's bid to join the alliance.

The coalition Cabinet of Prime Minister Dusko Markovic was approved with 41 votes in favor and none against in the 81-member assembly. Opposition lawmakers boycotted the session.

Markovic pledged that his Cabinet would wrap up in 2017 the years-long process of Montenegro's integration into NATO that has been opposed by Russia.

"We expect to finish the process before spring (2017)," the 58-year-old former intelligence chief told lawmakers. "Full membership (in NATO) will provide the level of security we haven't had in the past."

Markovic also said his government will seek to "overcome misunderstandings with our historic ally Russia," while keeping the European Union and NATO integration as the priority.

Opposition parties — including pro-Russian groups — have complained that the Oct. 16 elections were marred by irregularities.

The vote was marked by the arrest of 20 people who allegedly planned to assassinate the prime minister and take over power in order to block Montenegro's NATO effort.

Authorities have said two Russian nationalists were behind the plot along with some Serbs who fought with pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has denied involvement in the alleged coup. However, Russian officials have openly opposed Montenegro's upcoming membership in NATO.

Montenegro was formally invited to NATO last year. With Montenegro's joining, Russia would lose strategic access to the Adriatic Sea, and Serbia would be its only remaining ally in the region.

NATO officials said they expect Montenegro to become a member next spring after all 28 alliance member states ratify the agreement in their respective parliaments.

Markovic said he will then put the membership bid for a vote in the Montenegrin parliament. This is likely to anger the pro-Russian opposition, which insists on a referendum.

Markovic succeeds long-ruling PM Milo Djukanovic, who led his country to independence from Serbia in 2006. Markovic's Cabinet includes ministers from the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, Social Democrats and ethnic minority parties.

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