Longtime prime minister Djukanovic steps down

3 min

Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, the Balkans' longest-serving leader, resigned on Tuesday after nearly 20 years on his country's political scene. Djukanovic's party has endorsed his deputy to succeed him.


AP - Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, the longest-serving Balkan leader who led his tiny Balkan nation to independence and European Union membership candidacy, resigned on Tuesday.

Djukanovic, who also faced allegations of crime and corruption, said he is stepping down because he has fulfilled his task to bring Montenegro closer to the EU and NATO membership.

“I have been in power for very long two decades,” Djukanovic told a press conference. “The conditions have been created for me to step down.”

“My decision is not sudden or hasty ... and it was not made under pressure,” he said.

Djukanovic, 49, led Montenegro as either president or prime minister for almost 20 years, through the turmoil of the Balkan wars and during the postwar quest for independence from Serbia, which was finalized in a referendum in 2006.

He already stepped down once in 2006, but returned to power in 2008.

Tuesday’s announcement comes only days after Montenegro formally became the candidate for membership in the European Union, in a major step toward its goal of joining the 27-nation bloc.

The Adriatic nation of some 670,000 people, was a rare former Yugoslav republic that split peacefully from Belgrade, avoiding bloodshed that followed similar moves by Croatia, Bosnia or Kosovo.

The country has since introduced pro-Western reform and pledged to root out crime and corruption that flourished during the crisis years.

Djukanovic himself has in the past been at the center of the crime allegations. Italian authorities have investigated him for allegedly being part of a Balkan cigarette smuggling ring in the 1990s.

The cigarettes were allegedly smuggled on motorboats into Italy from across the Adriatic. Italian prosecutors dropped the probe in 2009 because of Djukanovic’s diplomatic immunity.

He has vehemently denied the accusations, saying the cigarette smuggling helped Montenegro survive international sanctions imposed on the regime of late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic for fomenting the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s.

“I’m leaving the post with a perfectly clear conscience, without fear of any legal action against me,” Djukanovic said.

Djukanovic - once Milosevic’s close ally turned a bitter foe - became the youngest prime minister in Europe at the age of 29 in 1991. He was elected Montenegro’s president in 1998, before again assuming the premier’s job in 2002. He was elected premier for the fifth time in 2008.

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