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President Đukanović continued to oppose Serbian Orthodox Church over controversial Dec 2019 Freedom of Confession Act, as Church followers sustained mass protests against law. Đukanović 4 Feb instructed members of ruling Democratic Party of Socialists to stay away from Church-organised protests, threatening expulsion from party for any politicians caught participating. PM Marković 14 Feb met with senior bishop to review religious law; Church delegates offered list of alterations to law including withdrawal of section requiring registration of all religious sites in Montenegro; govt reported “constructive and open atmosphere” of talks. Church officials claimed over 100,000 followers protested nationwide 16 Feb against new law; thousands marched against law again 29 Feb. Đukanović 27 Feb claimed Serbia and Russia were using protests to weaken govt and impede Montenegro’s application for EU membership; Belgrade and Moscow denied.
Tens of thousands of followers of Serbian Orthodox Church staged regular protests throughout month over controversial new Freedom of Confession Act, leading to clashes with police, and tensions with neighbouring Serbia. Critics argue law, which was passed 27 Dec, provides for govt register of all religious sites and stipulates religious groups must provide historic evidence of ownership to keep their properties, seeks to reduce role of Serbian Orthodox Church and allow govt to claim religious sites as state property. Tens of thousands of Church followers 12 Jan staged protests in capital Podgorica and other major towns calling for annulment of law; protestors 25 Jan clashed with police in Podgorica after security forces used tear gas to disperse them. Montenegrin president 23 Jan discussed religious law with Serbian president in attempt to diffuse rising bilateral tensions; acknowledged that respective positions on dispute remain so far “distant”. Police 31 Jan arrested in Mojanovići village mother of Milan Knežević, leader of opposition Democratic Front party, along with party members and another family relative; Knežević said arrests were related to his party’s objections to religious law.