* Pro-Western incumbents lead, but no overall majority
* Serbs suspected of planning election night attacks
* Instant messaging services blocked for much of day
* Opposition alleges cronyism, corruption, crime
(Adds partial count of votes)
By Aleksandar Vasovic
PODGORICA, Oct 16 The Democratic Party of
Socialists (DPS) was in the lead in Montenegro's parliamentary
vote on Sunday but looked short of winning a majority, leaving
pro-Western Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic needing a coalition
to extend his 24 years in power.
Djukanovic said the election was a historic choice between
closer ties with NATO or with Russia, but voters were divided
according to a partial count suggesting he would win 36 seats in
the 81-seat parliament, five short of a majority.
Montenegrins turned out in record numbers to vote on Sunday
amidst allegations of media and party websites being hacked,
polling station violence and the arrest of a group of Serbs
accused of plotting armed attacks on state institutions and
With tensions already high, the likely outcome leaves
Montenegro, a former Yugoslav republic of 620,000 people, deeply
divided, with its long-serving leader scrambling to build a
majority in a fractious parliament.
The authorities said 20 people, all citizens of neighbouring
Serbia, were arrested overnight, accused of entering Montenegro
intending to pick up a cache of automatic firearms with a view
to attacking state institutions and officials.
With 72 percent of votes counted, pollsters CEMI forecast
that the Democratic Forum (DF), an opposition alliance of
pro-Western parties and others that want stronger ties with
traditional allies in Serbia and Russia, would have 17 seats.
Together with other opposition parties and alliances, it
could have as many as 42 seats. Party officials from both the
DPS and the opposition claimed victory, though DPS looked
better-placed to form a government.
Djukanovic has said Russia sees the vote as an opportunity
to derail the Balkan region's rush towards joining NATO and the
European Union, while opposition parties have denied his
allegations that they receive Russian funding and have accused
him of running Montenegro as a corrupt personal fiefdom.
ECONOMY FACES EAST AND WEST
Authorities blocked access to mobile messaging services for
much of the day amid reports of messages circulating calling on
opposition supporters to vote. Media and party websites were
also knocked offline by attacks.
"Montenegro will continue its stable movement towards
European and Euro-Atlantic integration," Djukanovic, 54, said
after casting his vote in the capital Podgorica.
Supporters say membership will bring peace and prosperity,
but the issue is divisive. NATO bombed Montenegro in 1999, when
it intervened to stop ethnic killings in Kosovo by Serbia, with
which Montenegro was in a state union.
Western analysts have long viewed with concern signs of
growing Russian influence in Montenegro, with which it shares
Orthodox Christian ties. Some diplomats say last year's
invitation to join NATO was designed to counter this.
But the economy needs close ties to both east and west. It
has grown at 3.2 percent a year over the past decade, as foreign
investors, especially from Russia, China and Italy poured money
into energy, mining and tourism in a country famed for its
spectacular mountains and sea coast.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told reporters
earlier on Sunday he had no information about the arrests in
Montenegro and declined to comment, the Serbian news agency
(Editing by Thomas Escritt, Greg Mahlich)