WhatsApp, Viber blocked during Montenegro election day

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Montenegro’s opposition claimed on Monday that an inconclusive parliamentary ballot was packed with irregularities, including the blocking of popular messaging services WhatsApp and Viber by authorities on election day.

Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic’s long-ruling party won the most votes in Sunday’s election, but without enough support to govern alone. Both the opposition and the Democratic Party of Socialists will now have to try form a governing coalition with several small groups represented in the 81-seat parliament.

The outcome of the coalition negotiations will determine whether the state continues on its Western course or turns back to traditional ally Russia.

The tense election was marked by the arrest of 20 people, including a former commander of Serbia’s special police forces, suspected of planning politically motivated armed attacks against Djukanovic and his supporters. Opposition leaders claim that thousands of their supporters were rounded up by the police on election day.

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Authorities blocked Viber and WhatsApp for hours on Sunday, saying “unlawful marketing” was spread being through the mobile networks on the election day.

“Blocking such apps is unthinkable in any normal country. I have never heard of that happening anywhere ever in an election,” said opposition party leader Ranko Krivokapic, who has monitored elections for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the past.

The OSCE vote-monitoring mission will issue its report on the Montenegro election later Monday.

Messages sent to WhatsApp and its owner Facebook Inc. weren’t immediately returned. Viber, owned by Japanese tech company Rakuten Inc., didn’t immediately provide comment on the reported outage.

Djukanovic, a former communist turned pro-Western supporter, has ruled the small Balkan state for 27 years with a firm hand either as its president or prime minister. He was pivotal in the country’s split from much larger Serbia in the 2006 referendum.

“The police junta did everything to keep Djukanovic in power,” opposition Democratic Front leader Andrija Mandic said, calling for a “transitional government that will not allow this brutal police interference in the electoral process.”

Another Democratic Front leader, Nebojsa Medojevic, claimed that 2,500 opposition supporters were questioned by police on Sunday “just because they protested against Djukanovic.”

He said the arrest of the 20 “alleged terrorists” on election day was staged to rally Djukanovic’s supporters and scare away opponents.

“The oldest one is 73 years old and the youngest is 17, so you see what a farce this arrest is,” Medojevic said.

The prosecutor’s office said the group planned to attack people who gathered in front of the parliament when the vote results were proclaimed, then storm the building and declare the victory “of certain parties.” The statement said they also planned to arrest Djukanovic.

State TV said Monday the group was handed a 72-hour pre-investigation detention.

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