PODGORICA, Serbia-Montenegro (AFP) - Vote officials confirmed Montenegro's narrow vote for independence after completing a ballot count, sealing its split from Serbia and redefining a little more the map of Europe.
The head of the referendum commission, Frantisek Lipka, told reporters that 55.5 percent of voters in the tiny Balkan state had opted for independence in Sunday's historic referendum.
It cleared the 55-percent hurdle set by the European Union for the vote to be valid.
Montenegro's parliament is supposed to declare independence within 15 days of receiving the official results, which will only be deemed as final Saturday after expiry of the period during which they can be challenged.
Preliminary official results had already Monday given the pro-independence camp a 55.4 percent victory, but vote counting continued throughout the day.
The result effectively consigns the last vestiges of former Yugoslavia to history, after the bloody wars of the 1990s had already led to Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia leaving the communist-era federation.
The referendum was possible under the 2003 constitution which bound Serbia and Montenegro in a federation and contained an escape clause allowing either side to vote on independence after three years together.
Lipka said 230,711 voters, or 55.5 percent those who took part, had chosen independence, with 184,954 voting to keep the union with Montenegro's larger partner.
The results were based on a turnout of 86.5 percent of the 485,000 eligible voters in the state, wedged between the mountains and the Adriatic Sea with a population of just 650,000 people.
The vote, described Monday by the European security body OSCE as "free and fair," has been welcomed by the European Union and Montenegro's neighbours.
On Monday, the architect of the bid to break away from Serbia, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, said his state's next target was to restart membership talks with the European Union and NATO.
Belgrade's failure to hand over fugitive former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic to the UN war crimes court led the bloc earlier this month to suspend membership talks with the federation of Serbia-Montenegro.
A jubilant Djukanovic described the vote for independent nation status as "absolutely the top of my career."
"This was an outline of my political and civic wishes and ambitions and, of course, now I feel very happy and very satisfied," he told AFP.
After initial results were announced Monday, towns across the mountainous state were flooded by thousands of pro-independence supporters dressed in red "Da" and "Yes" campaign T-shirts and draped in the scarlet Montenegrin flag.
Earlier, after voting had ended late Sunday, fireworks lit up the sky above the capital as revellers surrounded the parliament building to hear Djukanovic proclaim victory.
Pro-Serbian parties in Montenegro have so far refused to admit defeat.
The preliminary results were welcomed by leaders of several former Yugoslav republics, but there was silence from the Serbian government.
They were expected to comment later Tuesday after Serbian President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, a staunch supporter of upholding the union, meet with Miroslav Lajcak, the EU envoy overseeing the referendum process, .
Montenegro is one of the poorest parts of former Yugoslavia.
However, it already uses the euro as its currency, its economy grew by 4.1 percent in the most recent financial year and its inflation and budget deficit figures are around or below the European Union average.
Major respect for Montenegro man, they had the balls to initiate the war against the Turks.True brothers of war.
Montenegro Voted Independence From Yugoslavia This Morning.
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