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14 May, 2020 17:00

Montenegro police arrest 60 protesters after clashes over detention of Orthodox priests (VIDEO)

Montenegro police arrest 60 protesters after clashes over detention of Orthodox priests (VIDEO)

Montenegro police used teargas against protesters demanding the release of Serbian Orthodox Church priests detained for violating Covid-19 restrictions. Demonstrators claim the arrests were part of a wider crackdown on the Church.

The people’s anger was caused by the arrest of Serbian Orthodox Church Bishop Joanikije and several priests who led a religious procession amid a ban on public gatherings in the town of Niksic on Tuesday. The protests broke out late on Wednesday in several cities in the small Balkan state, which split from Serbia in 2006.

Videos from the protests captured violent scenes, showing a group of around a dozen policemen in full riot gear attacking a single demonstrator with batons and the crowd fleeing from the tear gas. Law enforcement also used stun grenades against the demonstrators, In4s website reported.

Local media said that there were dozens of injured among the ranks of the protesters, including a seven-year-old child, who was reportedly injured as the police dispersed the crowd in Pljevlja.  

“The injustice has exceeded every measure,” Gojko Perovic, the rector of the Cetinje school of theology, stated as he blamed the Montenegrin authorities for excessive use of force. “We call on them to stop their violent behavior toward peaceful and nonviolent protests,” he said in a statement. 

The police insisted that it acted “professionally” and was able to swiftly restore order. Around 60 people were detained after the officers were “brutally attacked for no reason,” the statement read. Some of the arrests were made in other towns, including the capital Podgorica, where attempts to organize rallies were also made. 

The demonstrators tossed stones, bottles and other foreign objects at officers, while also trying to block roads, according to the police. 

The authorities said that the march in Niksic on Tuesday, attended by several thousand worshipers, violated the ban on public gatherings introduced to stem the spread of the coronavirus. There have been 324 confirmed coronavirus cases and nine deaths recorded in Montenegro, a country populated by some 620,000 people. 

The clerics are now facing charges of violating health regulations, but the protesters insist that it’s not about Covid-19 at all. They see the arrests as part of a wider government crackdown on the Serbian Orthodox Church, aimed at separating the Montenegrin Church from the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade. 

Montenegro already saw a month of protests earlier this year after the country introduced a new religious law, which many feared would result in the Serb Church being deprived of its property. The government’s assurances that this wasn’t the plan weren’t enough to calm the worshipers. 

Also on rt.com It’s not oppression if a ‘pro-Western democrat’ does it? Montenegro’s ‘religious freedom’ law is a vile, lawless travesty

With two thirds of Montenegro’s population being Orthodox Christians, the Serb Church remains the largest faith group in the country and controls most of its holy sites. But its relations with the government have always been rocky due to the Church having strong ties with Belgrade and never fully accepting Montenegro’s independence from Serbia.

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