Montenegro’s chief prosecutor Ivica Stanković blocked on Wednesday evening the arrest of two Members of Parliament, preventing the climax of a political standoff with the opposition.
The two MPs face allegations of conspiracy to organize a coup d’état on October 16, 2016, allegedly designed to derail the country’s accession to NATO. Security services claim to have foiled the coup attempt, arresting 20 Serbian citizens, including the former Serbian police chief Bratislav Dikic. Yet Serbia’s Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, said at the time of the arrests made in his country that Serbia was not involved, and that there was no evidence that political parties in Montenegro were inlolved but there was a connection to a “third country.”
No lifting of immunity
On Monday, February 13, a special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic requested from the Montenegrin Parliament the lifting of immunity for opposition MPs Andrija Mandić and Milan Knežević.
The motion was approved, and a vote was expected to take place on Thursday, February 16. During the debate, riot police had to enter the parliament to prevent violent clashes.
According to a source, in blocking the arrests, Stanković was acting on the instructions of the Prime Minister, Dusko Markovic. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a source told New Europe that the arrests were stopped at the “last minute” after the direct intervention of the Prime Minister. The source says that Markovic received an urgent call from another “regional leader” before the call to the country’s Prosecutor General.
As soon as the prosecutor asked for the lifting of opposition MP immunity, the Democratic Front (DF) opposition platform announced they would boycott the vote. DF have 18 MPs in an 81-seat Parliament, which corresponds to little over 20% of the vote in November’s 2016 elections. But overall the opposition parties hold just under 50% of seats in Parliament.
Tensions ran high, and riot police entered the parliament over the last few days to prevent violent clashes between government and opposition.
DF is an umbrella organization dominated by Serbian nationalist forces with a pro-Russian orientation. However, the two MPs belonging to DF have rejected the notion of a conspiracy and protest the motion to have them stripped of their immunity.
Mandić is the leader of the New Serb Democracy party and was abroad when the prosecutor requested the lifting of his immunity on Monday. Knežević too is the leader of the Democratic People’s Party, another member of the DF platform.
DF have always sustained that the attempted coup was a fabrication by Milo Djukanović, a former ally of Slobodan Milosevic who later championed Montenegrin independence and has remained in office as President or Prime Minister since the early 1990s.
In turn, Djukanović sustains that Russia is financing the opposition, although three of the four members of the opposition are in fact pro-NATO.
On Tuesday, the European Commission’s spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said little more than Brussels observing political developments closely. Montenegro is a candidate for EU accession country.