Montenegrin police used tear gas against demonstrators in the cities of Niksic and Plevlya, where local residents protested against the detention of representatives of the local clergy – Bishop of Budimlyan-Niksic Serbian Orthodox Church Joanikije and eight priests.
This was reported by Montenegrin outlet Vijesti.
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There were also clashes between police and protesters.
The publication notes that in spite of the ban on holding mass events because of the coronavirus pandemic, the clergy held a meeting of believers for the occasion of the day of St. Vasily of Ostrog in Niksic.
Vasily Ostrozhsky – the most revered saint in Montenegro, who lived in the XVII century. Ostrogsky’s Memorial Day is celebrated annually on May 12th (April 29th according to the Julian calendar) – on the day of the clergyman’s death.
Hundreds of citizens gathered in front of the Nikšić Security Center, demanding that Bishop Joanikije of Budva and eight priests be released, and then go on a protest walk along Vuka Karadžića Street to the square.
They tried to block the roundabout, after which there was a clashwith the police.
Citizens threw stones at the police and chanted “Ustashas” (Fascists), while the police used tear gas and stun bombs, managed to break the citizens into smaller groups, but also to detain a larger number of them.
Several journalists were also arrested.
The coordinator of the Alternative party, Vesko Pejak from Nikšić, was invited to an informative conversation at the Nikšić Security Center last night, due to his status on the social network Facebook, in which he said earlier that he would be in front of CB Nikšić at 6 pm to express revolt over the arrest of clergy.
The gathered people chanted “We will not give the shrines”, “Let the bishop go” and sang “Montenegro has risen to defend the see, Milo thieves.”
Essentially, protesters turned it into a demonstration in defense of religion, while the entire situation was caused by the fact that the bishop and the other priests were attempting to organize a gathering during a lockdown, when all such gatherings are still banned in Montenegro.
22 police officers were injured in the riots in Niksic, and the police arrested dozens of citizens and found a knife, dagger and axe in a city park near one group.
“Vijesti” was told at the top of the Police Directorate that the police officers mostly suffered minor bodily injuries, which is why they asked for medical help at the local hospital and the Health Center.
Police said that the gathered mass, which violated a large number of measures and orders of the Ministry of Health, moved along part of the lane and sidewalks and thus prevented normal traffic, and citizens did not act on warnings and orders from the police to clear the road.
“The crowd, which the police estimated was about 400 citizens, came to the roundabout and blocked traffic. Police officers issued several warnings and orders that the crowd deafened and refused to disperse. After that, they pelted the Police Administration officers with stones. Several police officers who are currently receiving medical treatment were injured and official vehicles and equipment were damaged in the incidents,” the police said.
The entire situation is a result of the months-long attempts to change the canonic Orthodox church with another a government-controlled and pro-Western one. This attempt has faced numerous protests and violent demonstrations. Even if the arrest of the bishop and priests is not a part of this agenda, and they were simply refusing to follow government regulations in light of the COVID-19 lockdown, citizens are sensitive on the topic and regard it as such, which results in violent demonstrations in protection of their religion.
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