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Serbian Patriarch Enthroned In Kosovo Church Amid Tight Security

Patriarch Irinej succeeds Pavle, who died last year

Patriarch Irinej succeeds Pavle, who died last year

Thousands of faithful Serbs gathered in the Kosovo town of Pec to attend the enthroning ceremony of the head of Serbia's Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej.

The 80-year-old Patriarch Irinej succeeded Pavle after his death in November 2009. The first part of the two-stage enthronement ceremony took place in Belgrade in January.

The ceremony, attended by Serbian President Boris Tadic and other high-ranking officials, is the first of its kind in the ethnic-Albanian-dominated town of Pec since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008.

Security was tight as around 900 Kosovo police were deployed around the church's picturesque mountain location, said Amra Zejneli, an RFE/RL correspondent in Kosovo.

NATO-led peacekeepers and the European Union's police mission were alongside local police forces to ensure security.

"According to the police, around 2,500 pilgrims came from Serbia to witness the ceremony," Zejneli said. "Also, Serbians from central Kosovo arrived in several buses. Some people also came from Montenegro."

"Outside the church, there is a big plasma screen, where people can see what's going on inside the church. You can see various people here, some very very old, some middle-aged, and some very young," Zejneli said.

Increased Tensions

Irinej arrived in Pec on October 2. He urged both ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians to find a solution to Kosovo's contested status.

These are "very, very difficult times" for Serbia, the patriarch said.

The two sides are expected to start an EU-sponsored dialogue, but the exact date for the talks has not yet been set.
Thousands of Serbs traveled to Kosovo for the ceremony

Tensions between Pristina and Belgrade were increased recently, after Kosovo cut off Serbian mobile phone services in its territory.

Serbia rejects Kosovo's declaration of independence, and Serbia's Orthodox Church backs Belgrade's official position on Kosovo.

Kosovo has been recognized by 70 countries, including the United States and most EU nations.

The majority of Serbia's population of 7.5 million people identify themselves as Christian Orthodox. There are some 100,000 Orthodox Serbs living in Kosovo, where the predominant religion is Islam.

with agency reports