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Montenegrin Political Veteran Djukanovic To Run For President

Then-Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic speaks during celebrations marking the country's 10th anniversary of its independence from Serbia, on Independence Square in Podgorica in May 2016.

Montenegro's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) has nominated its leader, Milo Djukanovic, to be its candidate in a presidential election next month.

Djukanovic, a former prime minister who defied the Kremlin by guiding the Adriatic nation into the NATO security alliance, said after the March 19 nomination that Montenegro needed "additional wisdom and responsibility" as it chooses between heading toward European Union membership and Russia.

"This decision is an expression of what I see as my responsibility to the future needs and the development of Montenegro," Djukanovic said after the nomination.

Seven other candidates have declared they are also running in the April 15 election.

The 56-year-old, who is coming out of retirement to compete in the vote, has been a central figure in Montenegro's politics for decades.

A former ally of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, Djukanovic became the youngest head of government in Europe at the age of 29 in 1991, and has since served several roles, including president from 1998 to 2002.

Montenegro became NATO's 29th member on June 5, marking a historic turn toward the transatlantic alliance amid protests from Montenegro's political opposition and Russia, which has long opposed any further enlargement of the Western military alliance.

Montenegro claims that in the run-up to NATO accession, Serbian and Russian nationalists plotted to occupy parliament during the country's October 2016 parliamentary elections, assassinate Djukanovic, who then was the prime minister, and install a pro-Russian leadership to halt the bid.

The Kremlin has denied claims that "Russian state bodies" were involved in the alleged plot.

Fourteen suspects in the case are currently on trial in Podgorica.

The deadline for submitting candidacies to the president of Montenegro is March 26.