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Montenegro's pro-Serb government vote in favour of amending religion law

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By Euronews  with AP
Thousands of people rallied on Monday against the proposed change of the law
Thousands of people rallied on Monday against the proposed change of the law   -   Copyright  Risto Bozovic/AP

Montenegro's parliament has approved changes to the law on religious rights and property, responding to demands from months of protests organised by the Serbian Orthodox Church — but sparking demonstrations from citizens opposing amendments in the process.

The country's new, pro-Serb politicians approved the amendments with 41 votes in the 81-member assembly on Tuesday.

Pro-Western politicians, meanwhile, boycotted the session.

These changes relate to a bill strongly opposed by the Serbian church, which argued the law was designed to strip it of its property in Montenegro.

This claim was repeatedly denied by the previous government led by the long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS).

In August, a parliamentary vote saw the ousting of the DPS after months of church-led protests in favour of pro-Serb support, highlighting the ongoing contentious issue of national identity.

It can be compared to the thousands of people who rallied on Monday while chanting "Treason!" and "This is not Serbia!" against the proposed changes to the law.

Montenegro declared independence from Serbia after a referendum in 2006; however, personal ties paint a more complex picture.

Nearly a third of Montenegrins identify as Serbs, while the Serbian Orthodox Church is the country's dominant organised religion.

Under the DPS, the country moved toward a increasingly pro-Western position by joining NATO in 2017 and making inquiries about joining the EU. This, therefore, moved Montenegro further away from influences of the likes of Serbia and Russia.

Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic, who came into power at the beginning of the month, said the amendments would "set right the injustice" toward the Serbian church.

He wrote on Twitter: "This is a victory for the rule of law, but also for the people who defended that state on the street for a full 12 months.

"Tonight, the state was defended by the hands of that people in the Assembly."