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Police In Montenegro Detain Dozens After Pro-Serbian Protests


Riot police fire tear gas in front of a police station in Podgorica, Montenegro on June 24.

PODGORICA -- Montenegrin police have detained dozens of people following pro-Serbian rallies in Podgorica and other cities across the Balkan country.

The rallies were called by opposition figures who are seeking closer ties with Serbia and Russia.

The June 24 protests reflect mounting political tensions in Montenegro ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for August 30.

Protests broke out in the Adriatic coastal town of Budva where tensions have been high for days due to a dispute between municipal authorities.

Police in Budva used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators and detained 17 people.

Police In Montenegro Fire Tear Gas, Detain Pro-Serb Protesters
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In the capital, Podgorica, police say 18 protesters were detained.

Authorities say dozens of other protesters also were detained at demonstrations in other locations.

The tensions in Budva began on June 17 when Mayor Marko Carevic, who is loyal to Montenegro's pro-Serbian opposition, refused to hand over power to the ruling coalition after losing majority control in the local assembly.

Earlier this year, the Serbian Orthodox Church led weeks of protests in Montenegro against a religious law that the church leaders claimed would strip the church of its property in the country.

That law came into force in January. It says religious communities must prove their ownership of property before 1918 -- the year Montenegro joined the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and its church was absorbed by the Serbian Orthodox Church, losing all of its property in the process.

The Serbian Orthodox Church says the law is aimed at retaking its property. Montenegrin officials have repeatedly denied that claim.

Montenegro split from Serbia in a referendum in 2006. It has further distanced itself from Belgrade and its Orthodox ally Russia since then, taking a pro-Western foreign-policy course and joining NATO in 2017.

Montenegro also has been negotiating steps toward becoming a member of the European Union.

Serbian nationalists in Montenegro and Serbia have never fully recognized Serbia's separation from Montenegro, which they claim is a historic Serbian territory.

With reporting by AP
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