Serbian Orthodox Church clergy in Montenegro protest law

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PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Serbian Orthodox Church clergy in Montenegro protested on Tuesday against the planned adoption of a religious law that they say will strip the church of its property.

Several hundred priests wearing black robes gathered outside the Montenegrin parliament building where lawmakers are set to approve the bill in the coming days.

The law envisages that religious communities in Montenegro would need to produce evidence of ownership over their property from before 1918, when Montenegro joined a Balkan kingdom.

Montenegro’s population of around 620,000 people are predominantly Orthodox Christian and the main church is the Serbian Orthodox Church. A separate Montenegrin Orthodox Church isn’t accepted by other Orthodox Christian churches.

The government has denied that it plans to strip any community of its property, but the Serbian church in Montenegro insists the state wants to impound its assets, including medieval churches and monasteries.

Bishop Amfilohije, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, urged the lawmakers to reject the bill.

“We hope the members of parliament who were chosen by the people will hear the voice of the people and the peoples’ clergy,” he said during Tuesday’s gathering in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica.

Montenegro’s pro-Western president has accused the church of promoting pro-Serb policies in Montenegro and seeking to undermine the country’s statehood since it split from much larger Serbia in 2006.

Montenegrins remain divided over whether the small Adriatic state should foster close ties with Serbia or continue on its independence course.

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