Montenegro has continued on course for European Union membership after the countrys voters overwhelmingly brought back a veteran pro-EU politician to be their new president.
Milo Djukanovic, leader of the countrys dominant Democratic Party of Socialists, has declared victory in a presidential election held on Sunday in the Western Balkan state, which split from Serbia in 2006 following an independence referendum.
The victory for pro-integration forces comes ahead of a major EU summit in Sofia on 17 May to discuss the accession of the Western Balkan countries to the union.
The Bulgarian-hosted meeting with bring together the heads of EU member states as well as the leaders of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro to discuss a possible future inside the EU.
The European Commission suggested earlier this year in the run-up to the summit that Montenegro, as well as its former federal partner Serbia, could be the first states amongst the prospectivegroup to join the EU, by 2025 but only if reform conditions were met.
The 56-year-old victor said he sees the election result primarily as the confirmation of Montenegros strong determination to continue on the European road.
Mr Djukanovic and his party have dominated politics in the country for decades. His previous tenure in office oversaw the countrys independence. He served as prime minister from 1991 to 1998, then president from 1998 to 2002 and prime minister from 2003 to 2006 and again from 2008 to 2010 and 2012 to 2016.
The politician has previously been accused of having links to organised crime, including by the prosecutors office in the Italian city of Naples and the Italian anti-Mafia commission. He denies the claims.
Independent election observers at the Centre for Monitoring and Research say Mr Djukanovic won 53 per cent of the vote with 90 per cent of the vote counted avoiding the need for a run-off.
His closest opponent, Mladen Bojanic, from the Positive Montenegro party, won just 33 per cent of the vote. In contrast to Mr Djukanovic, the opposition Mr Bojanic advocates a more pro-Russian outlook.Mr Bojanic accused his victorious opponent of holding the countrys institutions hostage and has described his rule as a dictatorship.
Russian president Vladimir Putin complained on Wednesday that the state of Montenegro-Russia relations under Mr Djukanovic clearly does not correspond to the centuries-old traditions of brotherly friendship and spiritual affinity between our peoples. Montenegro joined Nato last year, angering Russia.
Other than EU membership and relations with Russia, the election was dominated by the issue of organised crime violence. A local mafia turf war, which Mr Djukanovic pledged to crack down on, has reportedly killed around 30 people since 2013.