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Mass rally against NATO in Montenegro

Thousands have protested against Montenegro's plan to join the NATO alliance, demanding the issue be put to referendum. The military alliance invited Montenegro to join earlier this month.

At least 2,000 turned out Saturday to demonstrate outside parliament to demand that Montenegro's ascension as NATO's 29th member be put to a referendum.

"If the referendum is avoided and there is a bid to fraudulently pass the decision in parliament, Montenegro will be brought to the verge of a conflict," Andrija Madic, the leader of pro-Russian opposition New Serb Democratic Party, told the crowd.

Chants of "Russia, Russia!" rang out from the assembled crowd which flew banners reading "NATO killers!" or "You Are Not Welcome Here."

Memories of 1999

Sensitivities remain acute more than 15 years after NATO warplanes conducted an 11-week aerial bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which at the time included Serbia and Montenegro.

"They bombed us for more than 70 days, so how can we forgive them for the victims and destruction?" Radomir, a 46-year old electrician, told the AFP news agency. "By no means can we forget that."

The bombing ended with Kosovo breaking away from Serbia and ultimately declaring independence in 2008.

Montenegro broke away peacefully in 2006 and the tiny Adriatic country of about 630,000 has launched talks to join the European Union. But first the government has indicated it wanted to join NATO.

"Montenegro is a strong aspirant for membership," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month. But Montenegro's veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has firmly rejected calls for a referendum over NATO membership.

Russian influence

Russen in Montenegro Immobilien Küstenstadt Budva

Russia has traditionally been a close ally and thousands of Russians have settled along its idyllic coastline.

Despite the pro-NATO tilt of the government, Moscow wields considerable economic and cultural influence in the former Yugoslavian republic.

Russian companies have invested millions in the country, which has also become a favorite tourism destination. Russians have been buying seafront real estate along the Adriatic coast and settled there with Russian-language schools for their children.

jar/bw (AP, AFP)

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