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Balkan Leaders Hail Montenegro Independence Vote --> Supporters of Montenegrin independence on the streets of Podgorica on May 18, before figures were released (epa) May 22, 2006 -- Balkan leaders are hailing Montenegro's apparent vote for independence in the May 21 referendum as another step toward the region's recovery from the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Preliminary official results show 55.4 percent of voters voted "yes" for independence, compared to 44.6 percent who voted "no."

Croatian President Stipe Mesic sent a message of congratulations, while Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said the vote would "contribute to stability in this part of Europe."

Agim Ceku, the ethnic Albanian prime minister of Kosovo, said the result was "the final act of the dissolution of Yugoslavia." Kosovo is also seeking independence from Serbia. He predicted that Kosovo would join Montenegro as a new state before the end of the year and said both would be "an important factor for the stability of the whole region."

Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski called the vote "the end of the Yugoslav project, which was created a long time ago with good intentions."

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said the results of the referendum had made the region freer, more stable, and more secure "on the road toward Euro-Atlantic integration."

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa also welcomed the vote and called on the two sides to avoid "additional tensions."

(compiled from agency reports)