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Montenegro: Detentions, injuries in priest arrests clashes

PODGORICA, Montenegro

Montenegrin police said Thursday they have detained “a number of citizens” following clashes at protests demanding the release of eight Serbian Orthodox Church priests jailed for leading a religious procession despite a ban on gatherings related to the new coronavirus outbreak.

Several officers have been injured during the unrest late Wednesday in the towns of Niksic and Pljevlja, police said. They insisted that police intervened with pepper spray and dispersed the protesters into smaller groups after they threw rocks, bottles and other objects and blocked traffic.

An ax and a knife were found during a search in Niksic, the statement said.

The protests followed the arrest of the Serbian Orthodox Church priests who had led a procession Tuesday that a few thousand people attended without wearing face masks or keeping a safe distance between one another.

The incidents add to tensions between the government and the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro which earlier this year organized months-long protests against a religious law they say would strip the church of its property. Montenegrin authorities have denied this would happen.

Large gatherings are still banned in Montenegro as part of efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. The detained priests are facing charges of violating health regulations during the virus outbreak by organizing the procession.

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