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Montenegro police fire tear gas to disperse protesters against anti-church law

EPA-EFE/BORIS PEJOVIC EPA-EFE/BORIS PEJOVIC
Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro monk takes part in a protest rally in Podgorica, Montenegro, 26 December 2019. Members of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro are protesting against a controversial new law on religion, which the church has called a plot to strip it of its property. Montenegro's government proposed a new bill on religion requiring all religious communities, including Catholic and Orthodox churches, to register their immovable assets as state property. The law also states that religious communities can only retain their assets if they can produce evidence of the right to ownership, triggering allegations from the Serbian Church that the government plans to dispute its holdings.

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Clashes between protesters and security forces in Montenegro’s capital Podgorica over a controversial law on religious communities erupted when police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Local media reported that the protests are happening in almost every major city in the country. Chanting “We will not give up the shrine”, the protesters demand that the government annuls the recently passed Freedom of Confession Act.
The law includes a register of all religious objects owned by Montenegro before it became part of Yugoslavia. Under the law, religious communities have to provide evidence of ownership to retain their properties. Supporters of the Serbian Orthodox Church protest against the law, that they say will strip the church of its property.
After the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992, Serbia and Montenegro formed a federative state, called Serbia and Montenegro, until they each became independent with a referendum in 2006. About 30% of Montenegro’s population still identify as Serbs.
Montenegro’s president Milo Đukanović has previously accused the Serbian Orthodox Church of attempting to undermine the country’s statehood since the split. His government has been supporting the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which proclaimed itself autocephalous in 1993. The Montenegrin religious entity itself is not recognized by the Catholic Church.

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