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Protesters Clash With Police In Montenegro Over Serbian Orthodox Church Ceremony

Demonstrators argue with police during a protest against the enthronement of Bishop Joanikije II in Cetinje, Montenegro, on September 4.

Hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in Montenegro on September 4 ahead of the inauguration of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the small Balkan nation.

Montenegrin state RTCG TV said protesters broke through a police blockade at the entrance to the country’s old capital, Cetinje, and threw stones at them, shouting, "This is Montenegro!" and "This is not Serbia!"

Metropolitan Bishop Joanikije II is scheduled to be formally installed as the top Serbian Orthodox church leader in Montenegro on September 5.

The ceremony -- planned to take place in Cetinje -- has angered opponents of the Serbian church in Montenegro, who say it is an insult to Montenegro's centuries-old struggle for sovereignty and independence.

Montenegro, which declared independence from Serbia in 2006, is split between those who consider themselves Montenegrins and those who deny the existence of the Montenegrin nation.

About 30 percent of the country's population of 600,000 identifies as Serb. The Serbian Orthodox Church is the predominant religion in the country.

Pro-independence Montenegrins have advocated for a recognized Orthodox Christian church that is separate from the Serbian one.

Patriarch Porfirije, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, is set to attend the inauguration of Joanikije, whose predecessor as the church's leader in Montenegro, Amfilohije, died in October after contracting COVID-19.

Based on reporting by AP and RFE/RL’s Balkan Service