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Both Sides Claim Victory In Montenegro Vote

By PREDRAG MILIC

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) â¿¿ Both the incumbent and the opposition candidate claimed victory in Montenegro's presidential election Sunday, fueling political tensions in the small Balkan country which is striving for European Union membership. State election authorities had yet to release any official results in the race for the largely ceremonial post.

President Filip Vujanovic, from the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, said that based on his camp's own, full count of the votes, he had won 51.3 percent of ballots, while opponent Miodrag Lekic won 48.7 percent.

"I want to inform the public that I have achieved a victory," Vujanovic announced. "I would like to thank the citizens of Montenegro."

Lekic's camp, however, said it had counted 97 percent of the ballots and that their candidate had won 50.5 percent of the votes, compared to 49.5 for Vujanovic. The opposition said it expected the result to remain the same until the end of the counting process.

Lekic described his opponent's declaration of victory as "resembling an attempted coup d'etat."

"The citizens of Montenegro have trusted me to become the president," Lekic said. "I urge the other side to act in a serious and responsible manner. We will demand that each ballot be counted."

A contested vote could raise political instability in Montenegro, which opened European Union accession talks last year and needs to move ahead with the necessary reform process.

The presidency, which comes with a five-year term, does not have much power, but the tight result in the election still deals a blow to Montenegro's governing coalition, which has ruled the country virtually unchallenged for more than two decades.

Vujanovic is after his second presidential term since Montenegro became independent in 2006. He is an ally of Montenegro's powerful prime minister Milo Djukanovic and a strong advocate of Montenegro's integration into the EU as well as NATO.

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