The police in Montenegro's northern towns of Niksic and Plevlja fired teargas and shock bombs to disperse protesters who flooded the streets and threw stones on police officers after the arrest of the Budimlje-Niksic Bishop Joanikije and several other Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) priests, Vijesti.me website reported late on Wednesday, adding that the police also arrested the correspondent of a Belgrade daily.
The priests were detainedfor serving the liturgy and celebrated St. Vasilije Day, despite Podgorica Government's ban on gathering during the coronavirus epidemic.
Montenegrin media reported that a correspondent for Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti was arrested in Niksic while recording the police intervention on his mobile phone. Correspondent Velisa Kadic was arrested and pepper-sprayed even though he had a press pass and despite warnings by a news photographer. Vecernje Novosti said he was released after more than three hours and quoted him as saying that he was not arrested at the site of the protest which was broken up by the police but later and far from the site.
The protesters yelled "We won't give up our shrines," "Set bishop free…"
The SPC in Montenegro said it didn't bless any gatherings and distanced itself from the events in the streets.
Vijesti said that children were among demonstrators in Pljevlja when the police threw teargas and shock bombs.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he would talk to Serb politicians in Montenegro on Saturday. Earlier, he said he couldn't interfere in the affairs of another country even if the issue was the SPC, and the arrest of its priests, adding that he didn't understand why they were arrested. “This is a very difficult situation for us, we can’t interfere in the affairs of another country but this is about the SPC and a part of our people,” he said adding: “We have not a choice but to stand without people and church within limits”.
The police said people were throwing stones, bottles and pyrotechnics on them and that two officers were injured.
Earlier on Wednesday, SPC Patriarch Irinej and President Aleksandar Vucic said they were concerned over the arrest.
Protest walks were held in other places in northern Montenegro – Berane and Andrijevica, coastal town of Budva, while in the capital Podgorica people protested by driving through the streets.