PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — In a bid to ease political tensions, Montenegro’s top prosecutor on Wednesday averted the detention of two prominent opposition leaders suspected in an alleged pro-Russian coup plot to overthrow the pro-NATO government.
Supreme state prosecutor Ivica Stankovic said in a statement that Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic do not need to be in jail as suspects in the Oct. 16 coup attempt, which allegedly included plans to kill the then-prime minister and take over power.
The move overruled an earlier arrest warrant by another prosecutor.
It came just hours after fellow lawmakers voted to revoke Mandic and Knezevic’s parliamentary immunity so they could be jailed and several hundred opposition supporters protested outside the Montenegrin Parliament.
Mandic and Knezevic are suspected of criminal conspiracy and inciting “acts against constitutional order and security of Montenegro,” prosecutors have said. They have denied the accusations.
Some 20 people, including two Russian citizens, have been accused in the foiled election day ploy said to be orchestrated by Russian and Serbian nationalists to stop Montenegro’s accession to NATO.
Meanwhile, the pro-Western government said its own and several other state web sites were hacked during a two-hour period on Wednesday.
The government had complained of hacking attacks during the Oct. 16 elections. It responded by blocking popular messaging services Viber and WhatsApp.
Mandic, who received support from the Kremlin during several recent visits to Moscow for his anti-NATO stance, denied being part of a coup plot and said “we cannot be intimidated.”
“It is a lie that any one of us has anything to do with the phony coup,” he told supporters.
The Kremlin, opposed to further NATO expansion in Europe, has actively supported anti-NATO groups in Montenegro, but denied involvement in the alleged coup plan.
The nation of 620,000 people is deeply divided between those who want to join NATO and other Western institutions and those who seek close ties with traditional Slavic ally Russia.
Montenegro’s membership bid is expected to be completed this spring.