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Easter Halt For Disputed Montenegrin Church Reconstruction

Emotions have been running high over a medieval church at Montenegro's Sveti Stefan resort.
Emotions have been running high over a medieval church at Montenegro's Sveti Stefan resort.
SVETI STEFAN, Montenegro -- Controversial reconstruction work on a medieval church in an exclusive Montenegrin coastal resort is to be suspended until after Easter, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

The agreement on the Sveti Stefan church was reached by Prime Minister Igor Luksic and Metropolitan Amfilohije of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Last weekend, residents from the area surrounding Sveti Stefan, led by Serbian Orthodox Church priests, started preparatory reconstruction work at the site of what remains of the 15th-century Church of Our Lady.

But the authorities said the work was illegal, and, on April 21, special police prevented the residents and priests from entering the resort, which has been closed for reconstruction since 2006. It has been leased to a Greek company, Adriatic Properties.

The residents dispersed only after they were assured that the newly rebuilt parts of the church will be left intact for the time being.

Sveti Stefan is a cultural heritage monument of the highest category and any illegal reconstruction violates agreements signed with Adriatic Properties, Minister for Sustainable Development Predrag Sekulic said.

"Even though we had a firm agreement, the residents have continued the reconstruction over the past two days, and the government has decided that the law has to be strictly respected and the site needs to be returned to its previous state," Sekulic said.

The church was remodeled in 1938 by dowager Queen of Serbia, Maria Karadjordjevic, who renamed it the Church of Alexander Nevski.

The Communist authorities demolished the church after World War II, when Sveti Stefan was turned into an exclusive resort which in its heyday hosted Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and many other celebrities.