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Veteran pro-EU candidate Djukanovic set to win Montenegro presidency: projection

PODGORICA (Reuters) - Veteran pro-European Union politician Milo Djukanovic was set to win Montenegro’s presidential election on Sunday with 53 percent of the votes, according to projected results.

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Mladen Bojanic, a businessman backed by an alliance of parties, including some wanting closer ties with Russia, was set to come second with 33 percent, according to a projection by the Centre for Monitoring and Research (CeMI) pollster, based on a representative sample of polling stations.

Djukanovic and his ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) led Montenegro into NATO last year and have pledged to complete talks for EU membership.

The presidential role is largely ceremonial. But Djukanovic, who would succeed his ally, Filip Vujanovic, is expected to wield considerable power and influence policy through the ranks of the DPS.

A cheering and flag-waving crowd of Djukanovic’s jubilant backers flocked to DPS headquarters in downtown Podgorica to celebrate.

Djukanovic arrived at party headquarters around 10:20 p.m. and was welcomed by cheering supporters, some of whom hugged and kissed him as he walked towards the rostrum.

“We have fulfilled our promise and we have achieved another valuable victory for the European future of Montenego,” he said.

“I understand this election result as a confirmation of Montenegro’s evolution to achieve European values, European standards and full membership in the European Union,” Djukanovic said before opening a bottle of champagne.

“There will be no second round,” Milos Nikolic, a DPS parliamentary deputy told reporters. “Djukanovic is the new president of Montenegro.”

The state election commission said turnout at 7.30 p.m (1730 GMT), half an hour before polling closed, was 61.6 percent.

No significant election irregularities had been reported.

Having dominated politics as either prime minister or president of the former Yugoslav republic of about 620,000 people, Djukanovic stepped down as prime minister in 2016. He announced his comeback last month citing “responsibility for Montenegro’s future”.

On Thursday, Djukanovic told Reuters he would welcome an improvement of relations with the Kremlin.

Relations with Russia, which had been the biggest investor in Montenegro for several years after the country declared independence, soured when Montenegro introduced sanctions against Moscow in 2014.

During the campaign, opposition candidates accused Djukanovic of fostering cronyism, nepotism, corruption and ties with organized crime, which he denied.

“I am proud of my result,” Bojanic told reporters after projections were released. “I will continue the struggle to liberate Montenegro from Djukanovic’s dictatorship.”

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by David Evans and Peter Cooney