Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) were on their way to extend their 25-year reign after winning the most votes in Sunday's tense election, projections indicated.

According to calculations by the Centre for Monitoring and Research (CEMI), based on a statistical sample, the DPS won 41 per cent of the votes (36 of the 81 seats in parliament).

If the projections hold, the DPS can build a slim majority in an alliance with the Social Democrats of Montenegro, who collected 3.2 per cent (two seats), as well as with representatives of ethnic minorities.

"With our traditional allies, we will control 43 seats in the parliament," DPS spokesman Predrag Sekulic told reporters in Podgorica.

The opposition Democratic Front received 20 (18), the Kljuc (Key) 10.8 (nine), Democrats of Montenegro 9.8 (eight) and Social Democratic Party 5 (four) per cent of the votes.

The turnout among the 530,000 registered voters was 73.2 per cent.

Election day was marred by nervousness within the Montengrin society, which is deeply polarized over crucial issues.

Tensions were further fuelled by a police statement that 20 Serbian nationals were arrested on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks to destabilize Montenegro.

"These persons are suspected ... of acts to create a criminal enterprise and terrorism," national police director Slavko Stojanovic said.

The 20 individuals were suspected of planning to "execute attacks on institutions of the systems, police and representatives of state bodies, not excluding high state officials," he said.

However the opposition responded by accusing Djukanovic's authorities of fearmongering with these arrests. They also spoke of dozens of incidents in which electoral rules were violated.

Interior Minister Goran Danilovic, as well as several opposition leaders urged the people to stay away from the streets and reduce the danger of violent incidents.

The elections are unlikely to heal the many divides among Montenegrins.

A key debate is centred on NATO membership, which Montenegro was invited to join 10 months ago.

The country is caught up in argument about allegiances between the county's Orthodox "mother," Russia, and its "sister," Serbia, and whether they should have their own church or remain under the Serbian patriarch, as well as which language they speak: Serbian or Montenegrin.

The elections were, however, a referendum on Djukanovic, whom the opposition accuses of corruption and tailoring the state to the benefit of his own interests and the interest of his cronies.

Djukanovic dismisses the accusations, warning Montenegrins that the opposition camp, which includes pro-Russian parties, wants to reverse the country's progress toward NATO and EU membership.

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