Montenegro’s court in Podgorica sentenced Milan Knezevic, one of the leaders of pro-Russian opposition Democratic Front, to 7 months in jail on October 18 for his involvement in clashes with police along with two other party leaders during anti-government protests in autumn 2015.
The court’s decision comes at a time when the international community is putting pressure on Montenegrin parties to start a dialogue and end a year-long political crisis. All opposition parties have been boycotting the work of parliament since the October 16, 2016 general election and refuse to start talks with the government unless the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) agrees on new elections. While some political analysts believe that all parties involved have already started giving signs that might be willing to start a dialogue and make compromises, the verdict could again raise tensions and postpone the launch of talks.
Several leaders and members of the DF are also suspected of being involved in a coup plot around the 2016 election, as well as in money laundering cases, and have lost their parliamentary immunity. Knezevic has also been indicted for participating in the coup plot.
“He [the judge Goran Djukanovic] said that an aggravating circumstance for Knezevic was that he is an MP, while a relieving one was that he had not been previously convicted. In case that the verdict enters in force, Knezevic will no longer be allowed to be an MP in Montenegro’s parliament,” a statement on the website of the Democratic National Party (DNP), one of the parties in the DF, reads.
On October 18 and 24, 2015, protests staged by the DF turned violent and two of the party's leaders - Andrija Mandic and Slaven Radunovic - were arrested and accused of provoking the violence. In November the same year, the parliament agreed to strip the immunity of both leaders and of Knezevic, who was accused of attacking a policeman. Mandic and Radunovic have not yet been sentenced.
The statement added that Knezevic told the judge he is proud of everything he had done on that day as he was only defending himself of police’s illegal acts.
The DF, a coalition of opposition parties, organised several protests in autumn 2015 in an attempt to force Montenegro’s then prime minister Milo Djukanovic to stand down. The party has refused to participate in the work of the parliament since then and is threatening to organise new protests this year if the current Prime Minister Dusko Markovic does not resign.
The DF is also suspected of involvement in the coup plot ahead of the October general election last year. According to Montenegro’s special prosecution, party members were connected to the coup plot organisers. Moreover, the DF was allegedly in charge of taking over communications during the coup. However, the DF has repeatedly accused the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of staging the coup plot in an attempt to gain more votes.
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