Montenegro presidential poll tests backing for European Union membership

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Montenegro's ruling party leader Milo Djukanovic swept a presidential election on Sunday, preliminary results showed, and he pledged to keep the small Balkan country firmly on a European path after it joined North Atlantic Treaty Organisation previous year in defiance of Russian Federation.

If confirmed, the result is an approbation for his move a year ago to defy Moscow and take Montenegro into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

With 95 per cent of the ballots counted, exit polls suggest Djukanovic won 53.9 per cent of the votes, securing victory in the first round.

Djukanovic, the nation's dominating politician, along with his own Democratic Party of Socialists have ruled Montenegro for nearly 30 years. President Filip Vujanovic, also of the ruling party, was not running due to term limits.

Djukanovic was prime minister during a tense October 2016 parliamentary election when authorities said they thwarted a pro-Russian coup attempt created to prevent the country from joining North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

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"I will win today", Djukanovic predicted after voting.

About 530,000 voters chose among several candidates in the Adriatic Sea nation that used to be part of Yugoslavia.

The opposition says Djukanovic has ties to the mafia, an accusation he has denied.

The issue of organised crime has cast a shadow on the campaign, with some 20 people killed by assassination or vehicle bombs over the last two years. He hopes next to steer the country into the European Union. Djukanovic challenger will be Mladen Bojanic, backed by resistance groups, for example types that are pro-Russian.

Djukanovic's election team earlier announced his victory.

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Pro-Russian Marko Milacic, a candidate forecasted to win just three percent of the vote, accuses Djukanovic of being most responsible for the "situation in the country, from bloody streets to the foreign policy and a ruined economy".

But he has toned down the anti-Russian rhetoric, saying he wanted "normal relations with Russia if it is prepared to do the same". The average salary in Montenegro sits at around €500 ($615) and unemployment is more than 20 percent.

Turnout at the presidential elections, according to the electoral commission, was 64 percent, meaning that 327,865 people voted.

The EU in its 2016 country progress report told Montenegro it should continue its efforts to reduce organised crime, in particular on human trafficking and money laundering, and also noted the problem of worldwide cigarette smuggling through the port of Bar.

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