The Christian Orthodox Church of Albania has condemned the violent ousting of clergy and believers from a temple in Premeti, during the celebrations for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on the 16th of August, by parastatal and municipal authorities.

Worshippers and clergy refusing the leave were violently removed by municipal police, while religious artifacts such as religious icons and utensils were confiscated. On Monday local residents reacting clashed with police outside the church, demanding that they be allowed to resume services.

The church was evacuated under the pretext of following a court order, which stated that the building be returned to municipal authorities. According to Albanian legislation, the building must function as a culture center.

During his lecture at the Cathedral Temple in Tirana, the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Albania Anastasios commented that the ousting harkened back to the communist era in Albania, when religious beliefs were banned. He also demanded that the Albanian government fulfill its 2009 promise to return seized church assets.

Regarding the legal pretext, Archbishop Anastasios explained that the Albanian recognized that the cultural center was built on top of a Christian holy temple and handed it over to the Church in exchange for the cost of converting it. In the past the Church has repeatedly been vandalized, with the clergy alleging the attacks have municipal backing.

The spokesman of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Konstantinos Koutras commented that the violent ousting of the clergy and believers from the temple “are unacceptable, condemned and without any legal backing”.