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Montenegro's law on same-sex unions was passed by a mere two-vote majority a year ago. (illustrative photo)

Two women have concluded the first same-sex civil union in Montenegrin history, more than a year after parliament passed a law making it the first non-EU country in the Balkans to allow such partnerships.

The individuals, who wished to remain anonymous, were wed in the Adriatic coastal city of Budva on July 25, according to local officials.

A Budva official, Milijana Vukotic Jelusic, said both women are originally from the Balkans but live and work abroad.

Questions of sexual preference and gender identity remain contentious in much of Montenegro and the region, where traditional Christian Orthodoxy and social conservatism hold considerable influence.

Montenegro's law on "life partnership of same-sex persons" was passed by a mere two-vote majority a year ago. It gave the government until July 15 to bring Montenegrin legislation in line with the change to allow such legal unions.

The former ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) led the effort to pass the law on same-sex unions over the objections of some of its coalition allies. It has since been voted out of power.

The leading bloc in the current coalition government, the Democratic Front, opposed the legislation.

The Democratic Front-led government, which took over in December, has so far failed to harmonize or even send to parliament the required amendments to around 26 other laws and bylaws.

In Budva, Jelusic said the newly wed couple had requested their union on the day that the July 15 deadline ran out.

"Although the Law on Life Partnership of Same-Sex Persons was adopted a year ago, much remains to be done to meet all the preconditions for its full implementation," Montenegrin Minister of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media Tamara Srzentic tweeted on July 25.

Srzentic pledged that "the LGBTIQ community will always have a partner and ally in me for all activities that contribute to improving the quality of life of members of this community, as well as the promotion and protection of their rights and freedoms."

Montenegro's first Gay Pride Parade was held in Budva in July 2013 in an atmosphere of violence. Attempts by angry crowds to attack participants were prevented by a heavy police presence.

Videos have been posted on social media indicating that a protest has been staged in central Tehran.

Angry protests against water shortages and deteriorating economic conditions in Iran have spread to the streets of Tehran, as demonstrators in the capital openly display discontent with the country's Islamic leadership by chanting "Death to the dictator."

RFE/RL's Radio Farda cited videos and text posted on social media that indicate a protest rally was staged during the morning of July 26 on Jomhuri Islami Avenue in central Tehran.

Protests Spread In Iran Over Water Shortages, Economic Troubles
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Tehran's Deputy Governor Hamidreza Goodarzi confirmed that the protest had taken place on July 26. He said the reason for the demonstration was the "lack of electricity."

But RFE/RL reports that the Tehran demonstrators also expressed support for protesters in Khuzestan and other Iranian cities who have staged defiant rallies since July 15 over water shortages.

In one video from Tehran, protesters expressed discontent with the conservative Islamic clerics who control political life in Iran -- chanting: "Cannons, tanks, fireworks, mullahs must go."

In other videos, young demonstrators chanted "Shame on Khamenei, your country" and "Let go!" -- referring to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Still, others chanted: "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life for Iran."

That slogan has been chanted for decades by those who oppose the Iranian government's policies of providing financial aid and weapons to Palestinian militant groups and Hizballah fighters in Lebanon.

Iran is facing its worst drought in at least 50 years -- a natural event that has been exacerbated by poor water management policies, which have hurt agriculture and left reservoirs in the country with little water. The loss of electricity from hydroelectric dams has also contributed to weeks of power blackouts in parts of Iran.

The spread of protests to Tehran also comes as Iran struggles through another wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy continues to suffer under strict U.S. sanctions.

Thousands of workers in Iran's oil industry have also launched strikes for better wages and working conditions.

Since protests against water shortages began on July 15 in Khuzestan and spread to other towns and cities, at least five demonstrators have been shot dead across Iran. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the deaths were the result of apparent "excessive force" by Iranian authorities.

HRW has urged Iranian authorities to "transparently" investigate the reported deaths and hold those responsible to account.

The U.S.-based nongovernmental rights group says Iranian officials also should "urgently address long-standing grievances on access to water in the country."

"Iranian authorities have a very troubling record of responding with bullets to protesters frustrated with mounting economic difficulties and deteriorating living conditions," said Tara Sepehri Far, an Iran researcher at HRW.

With reporting by Reuters and IRIB

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