Montenegrin government falls over ties with Serbian Church

August 19, 2022 GMT

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — The Montenegrin government fell in a no-confidence vote early Saturday that followed a rift over relations with the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church.

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

The issue is sensitive for many in the small Balkan nation of 620,000 people that split from its much bigger neighbor Serbia in 2006. The Serbian Orthodox Church enjoys the biggest following in Montenegro, but the nation is divided over the church’s dominant role and the country’s ties to Serbia.

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

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Abazovic has defended the agreement as the way to put behind the long-standing church 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 snap parliamentary elections or if the parties would try to form a new govening coalition.

Political bickering in Montenegro has blocked progress toward integration into the European Union. Montenegro in 2017 defied its former ally Russia to become a member of NATO.