Montenegro to reshuffle government

PODGORICA, Jan 13, 2000 -- (Reuters) Montenegro will reshuffle its government later this month to replace foreign minister Branko Perovic, who resigned last month over alleged involvement in smuggling and criminal association with the Italian mafia.

Local media said on Wednesday that Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic had called an extraordinary session of parliament for January 26 to outline the reshuffle, which according to the Montenegrin constitution must be approved by the deputies.

Part of the ruling coalition of the pro-Western republic, the only one left with Serbia in the internationally isolated Yugoslav Federation led by Slobodan Milosevic, is also pressing for other ministerial changes, the Vijesti daily said.

Vijesti said there was so far only one obvious candidate to replace Perovic, who told parliament last month he would step down, after an Italian judge ordered him and others to stand trial on smuggling and criminal association charges.

"In diplomatic ranks only the name of Branko Lukovac, Montenegro's envoy to Slovenia, is mentioned as a possible replacement for Perovic," it said.

Western diplomatic sources have said Perovic's resignation was a damage limitation move to appease European Union backers of Montenegro's government and ease pressure from its Milosevic-backed opponents.

The National Party and the Social Democratic Party, junior partners in the tripartite ruling coalition, are pressing for the replacement of Minister of Religious Affairs Slobodan Tomovic, Vijesti said.

The parties say Tomovic is too close to the Serbian Orthodox Church and that this is not fair on the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which the Serbian Church does not recognize.

Last week police prevented supporters of the Montenegrin Church holding a ceremony in a place where adherents of the Serbian Church had already gathered, saying they feared a clash.

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