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Montenegro PM, Serbian church bishop meet on religious law

People walk by graffiti showing a Serbian flag, left, and text reading "Montenegro and Serbia'' in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
People walk by graffiti showing a Serbian flag, left, and text reading "Montenegro and Serbia'' in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PODGORICA – Montenegro's prime minister on Friday met with the top Serbian Orthodox Church bishop in the country in a bid to defuse tensions over a contentious law on religious rights.

The Serbian Church in Montenegro opposes the bill, saying it enables the state to take over its property, including monasteries, churches and other assets. The government has denied it plans to do so.

Thousands of people have attended church-led protests, which have been held throughout Montenegro since the legislation was adopted late last year.

About 30% of Montenegro's 620,000 people declare themselves as Serbs. Montenegro split from much larger Serbia in 2006. It joined NATO in 2017 and is now seeking European Union entry.

Prime Minister Dusko Markovic and Bishop Amfilohije, who heads the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, held talks at a state villa in the capital, Podgorica.

The Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro is recognized by other Orthodox Christian churches, while the self-proclaimed Montenegrin Orthodox Church hasn't been accepted.