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Montenegro opposition leaders to stand trial over coup plot

This photo taken on February 15, 2017 shows Montenegro's opposition leaders Andrija Mandic (R) and Milan Knezevic attending a protest in front of the parliament building in Podgorica. (Photo by AFP)
Two pro-Russian opposition leaders in Montenegro and 12 other suspects are to go on trial over their role in an alleged attempt to overthrow the government last year.
A statement from Podgorica's High Court on Thursday confirmed the indictment against the group, meaning the trial should begin within 60 days.
Democratic Front leaders Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty of the charge of "creating a criminal organization."
The indictment says two Russians, who will be tried in absentia, were the organizers of the coup attempt in October.
The pair, identified as Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, and three Serbian nationals in the group face 20 years in jail if convicted of attempted terrorism.
Montenegrin police arrested a group of Serbian nationals on the eve of a general election in mid-October, accusing them of planning to storm parliament and target the then prime minister, pro-Western Milo Djukanovic.
Authorities allege that "Russian state bodies" were involved in the conspiracy in a bid to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO.
Montenegrin honor guards raise NATO and Montenegrin flags during a ceremony in the capital Podgorica on June 7, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Moscow has denied involvement in the alleged plot, although it openly opposes Montenegro's accession to NATO, which was completed on Monday.
Nine others have already been sentenced to a few months in jail over the coup bid after agreeing to testify and striking a deal with prosecutors.
Mandic insists the affair was staged to discredit his party and has denied any criminal wrongdoing.
"This is a political indictment and a political process," Knezevic told reporters on Thursday.
Judicial authorities have never explained how they got wind of the conspiracy, and the defense for the accused note that police have never produced the weapons intended for use in the attack.

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