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10/16/16

Montenegro: NATO-Russia tension looms over Montenegro vote

Montenegro's ruling party faces a tough test in national elections, hoping its promise to bring the country into NATO and closer to the European Union will outweigh opposition allegations of corruption.

Milo Djukanovic, the prime minister, has presented Sunday's vote as a choice between continuing Western integration under his Democratic Party of Socialists or being reduced to a "Russian colony" under the opposition.

But the opposition say his regular accusations that they are funded by Russia are false and a smokescreen to cover for the culture of cronyism and organised crime that they say he has allowed to flourish over his quarter-century of dominance.

NATO invited the tiny Balkan country of 620,000 to join last year, partly out of concern at Russian influence in Montenegro, which has strong cultural and commercial links to its traditional Orthodox Christian ally.

A lack of reliable polls makes the election hard to call, but long-term allies have deserted Djukanovic, suggesting that the message from opposition parties may have traction.

The former Yugoslav republic's economy has grown at a brisk 3.2 percent a year for the past decade, thanks mainly to foreign investment, much of it from Russia as well as China and Italy, targeting energy, mining and tourism in a country famed for its spectacular mountains and sea coast.

At an opposition rally in the capital Podgorica on Saturday, hundreds of backers of the Democratic Front (DF), an alliance of pro-Serb and pro-Western parties, waved Serb, Russian and Montenegrin flags, chanting their campaign slogan "Us or Him".

"Djukanovic, step down peacefully on Sunday if you love Montenegro," said Nebojsa Medojevic, a pro-Western politician and one of the DF's leaders.

Polling stations close at 18:00 GMT, with first partial results expected an hour later.

Read more: NATO-Russia tension looms over Montenegro vote - News from Al Jazeera

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