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Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 13:54 GMT
Religious row blazes over Greek identity
Archbishop Christodolous
Archbishop Christodolous: "Defending the nation"
By religious affairs correspondent Jane Little

The leader of Greece's Orthodox Church has claimed that Jews are behind a bitter dispute in the country over identity cards.

Archbishop Christodoulos told the To Vima newspaper that Jews instigated moves by the government to no longer mention religious affiliation on the cards.

He said the Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, had been persuaded to make the change after a meeting with Jewish leaders in the United States in 1996.

For the Greek Orthodox Church, defending the recording of religion on Greek identity cards amounts to defending the soul of the nation.

The church has staged demonstrations against the government's plan and is currently collecting signatures for a petition. It estimates it will have three million to hand over to the government later this month.

'Remnant of history'

A spokesman for the archbishop denied that he was blaming Jews, merely that he was making a comment.

He added that the church remains opposed to the measure, not to people from other religions.

A spokesman for the World Jewish Congress said he was not surprised that Jews opposed "a remnant of sad periods in European history". The Nazis used the cards to identify Jews during their occupation of Greece.

For its part, the government has signalled its intention to press ahead with plans to bring Greece into line with the rest of western Europe, and abolish a requirement which has long offended Greece's religious minorities.

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