Montenegro says it will protect itself from Belgrade

PODGORICA, Jul 7, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslavia's amended constitution - which could enable internationally shunned leader Slobodan Milosevic to rule for eight more years - has placed a question mark over the federation's fate, Montenegro said on Wednesday.

The smaller of Yugoslavia's two republics and by far the more western leaning, Montenegro vowed to defend itself.

"By changing the Yugoslav constitution in a non-democratic and almost illegal way the Belgrade regime has finally toppled the constitutional system of the country and brought its fate into question," said a statement from the cabinet of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic.

Djukanovic added in remarks to the Italian charge d'affaires to Yugoslavia: "Montenegro will find mechanisms to protect itself, through its parliament and the determined support of its people, from such constitutional and legal violence..."

He was speaking after the Yugoslav parliament in Belgrade amended the 1992 constitution that determined the federation of Serbia and Montenegro after the breakup of the former Balkan state.

The parliament, dominated by the ruling coalition of socialists, neo-communists and ultra-nationalists, voted for changes that give President Slobodan Milosevic a chance to rule for the next eight years and spread his influence to Montenegro.

Under the proposal not only the president but also the upper chamber of the federal parliament would be directly elected, thereby bypassing the Montenegrin parliament which is due to meet on Friday to discuss the constitutional changes.

At present, half of the deputies in the federal upper chamber are elected by the Montenegrin parliament.

Serbian opposition leaders said the amendments were clearly aimed at provoking Djukanovic to call a breakaway referendum.

"This is an attempt to force Djukanovic to call a referendum because here (in Serbia) they believe he would lose," Dragoljub Micunovic of the Democratic Centre party told Reuters.

Montenegro has threatened to hold a plebiscite on leaving Yugoslavia if Milosevic fails to agree to reform the federation and give more powers to its republics.

Djukanovic's chief adviser Miodrag Vukovic said the Montenegrin parliament needed to issue a declaration that would invalidate any decisions made by Belgrade.

"The Montenegrin parliament is obliged to adopt a document...stating that these (constitutional changes) will neither be accepted nor complied with," Vukovic told Reuters.

Vukovic said he expected the pressure on Montenegro to grow.

"Considering the way the Belgrade regime has started to act, Montenegro will be in a position in the coming days to take steps that would leave less space for optimism that its union with Serbia can be maintained while the Belgrade dictatorship lasts," he said.

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