At least 20 people were injured Sunday in Montenegro during clashes between police and demonstrators trying to prevent the inauguration of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Police also announced eight arrests following the violence that marred the brief enthronement ceremony in Cetinje, the former royal city in the south of the country.
Bishop Joanikije had to be flown by helicopter from the capital Podgorica to the city's monastery to get around the barricades that had been blocking access roads to Cetinje since the previous day.
Riot police used tear gas on protesters who fired gunshots in the air and hurled bottles and stones early Sunday in Montenegro before a planned inauguration of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the country.
The ceremony scheduled in Cetinje, a former capital of the small Balkan nation, has angered opponents of the Serbian church in Montenegro, which declared independence from neighbouring Serbia in 2006.
On Saturday, hundreds of protesters confronted police in Cetinje around a monastery where the inauguration of Metropolitan Joanikije is supposed to take place. The demonstrators also set up road barriers with trash containers, tires and large rocks to prevent church and state dignitaries from coming to the inauguration.
Chanting “This is Not Serbia!” and “This is Montenegro!,” many of the protesters spent the night at the barriers amid reports that police were sending reinforcements to break through the blockade. The protesters, some firing handguns into the air, set fire to car tires at one of the blockades, trying to prevent police from breaking through.
"I am here to show my love for the country," said one protester, Saska Brajovic, 50.
"We are not asking for anything from anyone else, but we are dismissed by the occupying Serbian Church. We are here defending our dignity," Brajovic, who spent the night at a barricade, told AFP.
The protesters are backed by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of President Milo Djukanovic.
Djukanovic had been eager to curb the SPC's clout in Montenegro and build up an independent Orthodox church.
But in August 2020 elections the DPS lost -- for the first time in three decades -- to an opposition bloc led by SPC allies.
Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic, who is close to the Serbian Orthodox Church, has accused Djukanovic of having deliberately stocked the recent tensions.
Metropolitan Joanikije was named to his new post in May, after the death of his predecessor Metropolitan Amfilohije from Covid-19. He had run the church in Montenegro since 1990. /Compiled from wires by argumentum.al