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Montenegrin Parliament Votes To Strip Opposition Leaders Of Immunity

Montenegrin opposition leaders Milan Knezevic (left) and Andrija Mandic wait outside parliament on February 15.
Montenegrin opposition leaders Milan Knezevic (left) and Andrija Mandic wait outside parliament on February 15.

PODGORICA -- Montenegro's parliament has voted to strip two opposition leaders of immunity over their suspected involvement in what authorities say was a foiled coup meant to undermine the country's bid to join NATO.

The two leaders of the pro-Russian Democratic Front, which opposes NATO membership, are suspected of involvement in the alleged October 16 coup attempt that prosecutors say included plans to kill the then-prime minister and seize power.

Several hundred opposition supporters have protested outside the parliament building on February 15 as lawmakers from the ruling coalition unanimously approved the motion against Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic.

WATCH: Supporters of two opposition leaders in Montenegro gathered to protest a move to prosecute them in an alleged pro-Russia plot to overthrow the government. (RFE/RL's Balkan Service)

Montenegro Opposition Leaders Lose Immunity In Alleged Plot
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Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic has accused the two politicians of "establishing a criminal organization" and threatening "the constitutional rule and security of Montenegro."

Mandic and Knezevic, who can now be arrested, have dismissed the plot allegations as "fiction."

Mandic has made several recent visits to Moscow, where he received support from the Kremlin for his anti-NATO position.

He has warned of civil war in Montenegro over the issue of NATO membership.

But Markovic's government remains committed to forging ties with the West.

Montenegro in October arrested about 20 people -- including two Russian citizens -- in connection with the alleged coup plot.

Most of the others arrested in October are pro-Russian citizens of Serbia.

The Kremlin has denied involvement, but has actively supported local groups that oppose Montenegro becoming a NATO member.

Twenty-four of NATO's 28 members have approved Montenegrin membership, which was endorsed by NATO leaders at a Warsaw summit in July 2016.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on February 14 that it was not clear when the remaining four NATO members will ratify Montenegro's accession protocol.

But Stoltenberg said the alliance was "on a good track to have the membership of Montenegro relatively soon."

The United States is one of the four countries yet to formally approve Podgorica's NATO bid.

Stoltenberg on February 14 said "there has been no sign that the U.S. administration is not supporting the ratification."

"It has a strong bipartisan support in the Senate and the [Senate] Foreign Relations Committee has supported it, so I think it is also on a good track in the U.S.," Stoltenberg said.

However, U.S. President Donald Trump's description of NATO during the 2016 presidential campaign as an "obsolete" organization and his calls for improved relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin have worried many in Montenegro that Trump may try to block Podgorica's membership bid.

With reporting by AP and AFP

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