Montenegro govt church deal triggers initiative for no-confidence motion


PODGORICA, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Several political parties initiated a parliamentary no-confidence motion in the Montenegro's government after it signed a long-disputed contract regulating the country's ties with the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic has insisted the deal would resolve a long-standing domestic problem and help heal deep divisions between pro-European Union parties and backers of closer relations with Serbia and Russia.

The deal regulates relations between the Serbian Orthodox Church, the largest church in Montenegro, including its real estate ownership rights, and the state of Montenegro.

The proposed contract has been criticised by human rights activists and pro-Western political parties who said it gave the church too much power compared to other religious communities, and asked for further expert consultations on the matter.

But Abazovic and the Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije signed the agreement without the presence of media, and with no prior announcement, in a government villa whose entrance was cordoned off by police while a few dozen protesters demonstrated against it.

After a heated debate during a government session that followed the signing ceremony, 36 opposition deputies filed a proposal for a parliamentary no-confidence motion in the Abazovic's minority government which was approved in April.

They said the government has failed to make progress on reforms needed for Montenegro's membership in the European Union, as it had promised, while focusing on the relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church and raising tensions in the society.

The parliament session on the no-confidence vote will be held on Aug. 19. It needs an approval of a simple majority in the 81-seat parliament.

Montenegro's politics have been long marked by divisions between those who identify as Montenegrins and pro-Russia Serbs who opposed the Adriatic country's independence from a former state union with Serbia and prefer stronger ties with Serbia and Russia.

Montenegro left its union with Serbia in 2006 but its church did not get autonomy and remained under the Serbian Orthodox Church, making it a symbol to some of Serbian influence.

Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Aleksandar Vasovic, William Maclean and Mike Harrison

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