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EU Foreign Policy Chief Begins Tour Of Western Balkans

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini addresses the Montenegrin parliament in Podgorica on March 1.

The European Union's foreign policy chief told Western Balkans countries on March 2 to press on with efforts to join the 28-nation bloc despite tensions threatening the region's stability.

At the start of a Balkan tour, Federica Mogherini, the bloc's foreign affairs and security chief, said the region's integration was in the EU's interest and that its door remains open.

"The Balkans lie at the heart of Europe and no political boundaries will change that reality," Mogherini said in a speech before Montenegro's parliament in the capital, Podgorica.

She praised the progress Montenegro has made in the accession process, declaring the Adriatic country of 620,000 people "the front-runner of the European integrations."

"The time for Montenegro to advance toward the EU is now," Mogherini said. "Montenegro can and will be part of the EU. This is not a distant dream."

Montenegro is expected to formally join NATO later this year, despite strong opposition from Russia. The country also has faced a political crisis at home with pro-Russian opposition parties boycotting meetings of parliament, including Mogherini's speech.

Montenegro has accused Russia of being involved in a failed plot in October to overthrow the pro-NATO government.

Mogherini also warned in a March 2 op-ed published in Montenegro's Pobjeda daily that stability in the Western Balkans remains fragile.

Mogherini on March 2 arrived in Macedonia, after being forced to postpone her visit to Bosnia due to bad weather.

She is also scheduled to visit Serbia, Albania and Kosovo.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP