Montenegro’s parliament on Monday moved towards lifting the parliamentary immunity of two pro-Russian opposition MPs over their suspected involvement in a foiled coup last October.
It follows a request by prosecutor Milivoje Katnic for parliament to allow Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, both leading MPs from the opposition Democratic Front (DF), to be prosecuted and detained. Montenegrin authorities have accused the alleged coup plotters, including DF leaders, of seeking to seize parliament and assassinate former premier Milo Djukanovic on the day of the October 16 elections. The DF is a fierce opponent of Montenegro’s bid to join NATO and has been behind violent protests against the Adriatic nation’s proposed membership in the alliance.
DF leaders have repeatedly denied involvement in the plot, claiming the government set them up. On Sunday, 52-year old Mandic, whose driver was arrested last week also on suspicion of involvement in the plot, warned the prosecutor that “clashes” could erupt if the DF leaders were charged. Mandic and Knezevic are suspected of “creating a criminal organisation… and preparing an attempt on the constitutional order and security of Montenegro,” according to a statement on the parliament website which added that MPs are set to vote on the issue Wednesday. Parliament is expected to lift their immunity, given that the opposition has boycotted parliament since it reconvened following the election.
Knezevic accused Djukanovic of being behind the prosecutor’s request. “If anything happens to me or Andrija… (Djukanovic) will be marked as a culprit,” Knezevic told reporters.
Another high-profile DF member, Nebojsa Medojevic, urged supporters “not to act on their own” following the latest development. “We are quiet, we calmed down activists, we will not contribute to the launching of a civil war in Montenegro,” Medojevic said. “But neither will we watch this quietly,” he added, without elaborating. Authorities have accused “Russian nationalists” of orchestrating the plot, saying pro-Moscow Serbs were hired to carry it out. Some 15 Serbs were arrested on the eve of the elections, while authorities have also launched a manhunt for two Russians who are on the run.
Djukanovic, a veteran politician who led Montenegro either as prime minister or president for almost 25 years, quit the government after the polls, despite his Democratic Party of Socialists’ victory. His close ally and new premier Dusko Markovic confirmed the country’s intention to join NATO later this year.
Russia has branded Montenegro’s NATO bid “a provocation”, however. If Podgorica joins the alliance, NATO will reinforce its presence in the Balkans as Greece, Croatia and Albania are already members.