October 24, 2015 / 8:39 PM / in 2 years

Montenegrin police fire teargas to disperse opposition

Opposition protesters stand near burning dumpsters as they gather in front of the parliament building in Pristina October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Hazir Reka

PODGORICA (Reuters) - Police in Montenegro on Saturday fired teargas for the second successive weekend to break up around 5,000 protesters who marched on the parliament demanding the resignation of veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and snap elections.

The rally began peacefully but turned violent after demonstrators attempted to break through a police cordon at the parliament building, hurling stones, flares and an incendiary device, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

Interior Minister Rasko Konjevic told a news conference that 15 police officers were injured, one seriously, and that 24 civilians sought medical treatment.

Andrija Mandic, a leader of the Democratic Front opposition alliance that staged the protest, and his ally Slaven Radunovic were taken for questioning over their roles in the incident, the minister said.

“This was an evident attack on police and state property. I am leaving to the prosecutor to evaluate the offense.”

Under Montenegrin law, Mandic enjoys immunity from arrest unless the offense is punishable by a prison term of over five years.

Other opposition leaders were not immediately reachable for comment.

The opposition says the former Yugoslav republic of 680,000 people is run as a fiefdom of Djukanovic, who has been in power for two decades, and the political elite surrounding him. The government rejects the charge and says protests were staged to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO.

Montenegro is a candidate to join the European Union and is expecting an invitation to join NATO. It is scheduled to hold a parliamentary election next year.

At the rally, Milan Knezevic, a top-ranking Democratic Front’s official, demanded Djukanovic and his allies accept the creation of an interim government and “first fair and honest” elections.

Western governments and rights groups remain concerned over the level of organized crime and corruption, which flourished during the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Before the protest, a group of opposition supporters pelted the Albanian embassy in Podgorica with stones, damaging its exterior. Both the Montenegrin government and the Albanian embassy condemned the incident.

The opposition movement combines pro-Western parties and pro-Serb elements who cherish close ties between Montenegro and Belgrade. The latter also oppose Montenegrin recognition of Kosovo, a majority ethnic-Albanian country which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman

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