PODGORICA -- Montenegro's parliament has approved changes to a controversial law on religion that has dominated politics in the Balkan country for more than a year.
The amendments to the Law on Freedom of Religion were backed by 41 deputies in the 81-seat legislature in a January 20 vote that was boycotted by the opposition.
The amendments repeal provisions that have been contested by the Serbian Orthodox Church, its supporters, and pro-Serbian parties.
Thousands of people have protested against amending the law, calling it "treason."
Lawmakers had already passed the changes in December, after the long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) lost its majority in parliament following general elections in August.
But President Milo Djukanovic, who heads the now opposition DPS, refused to sign the amendments citing "procedural reasons."
According to the constitution, the president cannot refuse to sign the legislation after a second vote in parliament.
However, the Constitutional Court must still rule on the constitutionality of parliament's actions on December 29, when the amendments were initially approved.
The original law, adopted in December 2019, required religious communities to prove property ownership from before 1918.
That is the year when predominantly Orthodox Christian Montenegro joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes -- and the Montenegrin Orthodox Church was subsumed by the Serbian Orthodox Church, losing all of its property in the process.
Under the new amendments, the government needs to launch legal proceedings if it wants to dispute the ownership of any properties.
After taking over last month, the coalition government of Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic proposed rewriting the law to ensure that properties stay in the hands of the church, which is based in neighboring Serbia.