Montenegrin government sever ties with Serbian Church

PODGORICA, Montenegro — The Montenegrin government fell in a vote of no confidence on Saturday morning following a rift over relations with the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church.

Lawmakers voted 50-1 to oust Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic’s government just weeks after signing an agreement regulating the position of the Serbian church in Montenegro.

The issue is sensitive for many in the tiny Balkan nation of 620,000 that split from its much larger neighbor Serbia in 2006. The Serbian Orthodox Church is the most widely followed in Montenegro, but the nation is divided on the dominant role of the Church and the ties of the country. to Serbia.

Critics argued that there was no need to make a special deal with the Serbian church separate from other religious communities. Pro-Western groups in Montenegro have also described the deal as a tool for Serbia and Russia to increase their influence in Montenegro amid the war in Ukraine.

Abazovic defended the deal as a way to put aside the church’s long-running dispute over its property and other rights in Montenegro, and focus on other important issues.

It was not immediately clear whether the fall of the government would lead to a snap general election or whether the parties would attempt to form a new ruling coalition.

Political wrangling in Montenegro has blocked progress towards integration into the European Union. In 2017, Montenegro challenged its former ally Russia to join NATO.

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