Montenegro Protests Flare as New Church Head Is Installed
(Bloomberg) -- The Serbian Orthodox Church enthroned a new head of its Montenegro branch on Sunday amid protests by crowds critical of the government’s ties with neighboring Serbia and the church.
The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Porfirije, installed Metropolitan Joanikije at a ceremony in a monastery in Cetinje, hours after police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse thousands of protesters trying to stop the inauguration.
Clerics were taken into the monastery by helicopter to avoid the scuffle, in which four people were slightly injured, according to national broadcaster RTCG.
Citizens of the former Yugoslav republic, which has a population of 620,000, are divided over ties with Serbia and the church. The protests threaten to destabilize the government of Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic, whose minority cabinet has been criticized by some Montenegrins over the role of pro-Serb and pro-Russian parties in the ruling coalition. One of Krivokapic’s first moves when he took office last year was to change a disputed law on religion in favor of the church.
About 30% of the country’s citizens consider themselves ethnic Serb. The former capital Cetinje is both the cradle of Montenegrin statehood and the seat of the local branch of the church, which has the biggest denomination in both countries.
The former government, controlled for years by current President Milo Djukanovic, led the country to peaceful independence from Serbia in 2006 and defied former ally Russia to join NATO in 2017. Montenegro is also in talks to join the European Union.
Eight people were arrested in the clashes, RTCG said. Two police officers were among the injured. Joanikije after the ceremony said he will serve toward “peace among brethren” in Montenegro, according to a broadcaster’s report.
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