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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 02:15 GMT
Salvation Army fights to stay in Moscow
Elderly Moscow woman eating charity meal
Help for Moscow's poor is threatened
The Salvation Army has said it will fight moves to expel it from Moscow, nine days after city courts upheld a ruling defining the organisation as a "paramilitary organisation".

The Christian charity claims the real reason for its expulsion is its refusal to pay bribes.

The Salvation Army has all the attributes of a military organisation

Vladimir Zhabankov
Moscow city Justice Ministry
It says that many homeless people will suffer this Christmas without the organisation's help and has vowed to fight any moves to remove it from the Russian capital.

Since it set up in Moscow in 1992, it has provided humanitarian aid for nearly 900 city organisations such as churches, prisons, hospitals and orphanages.

City authorities withdrew the organisation's registration - which it needs to operate legally - in January this year, arguing that it was out to destroy the Russian state.

The case went to a tribunal in September, and the Salvation Army lost its appeal on 12 December.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow
The Russian Orthodox Church is suspicious of foreign Christian groups
Lieutenant Colonel Barry Pobjie, the Salvation Army's Eastern European commander, said the organisation "would not go down the road of paying bribes".

City officials deny claims of corruption.

The deputy head of the Moscow city Justice Ministry Vladimir Zhabankov said that the organisation's use of rank and uniforms was being questioned.

He told the BBC: "The Salvation Army has all the attributes of a military organisation."

In one part of the city its meals-on-wheels service for the elderly was suspended.

It faced eviction from some of its Moscow properties, and local police started attending services to check documents.

My concern is we do not know where this will lead

Major Bill Cochrane
Salvation Army

It is believed the reason for the crackdown could lie with the law on religious organisations, passed in 1997.

That aimed to boost the power and influence of the Russian Orthodox Church at the expense of religious organisations from abroad.

All religious groups across Russia were required to re-register with the authorities by the end of last year if they wanted to continue to operate. Not all were successful.

Salvation Army spokesman Major Bill Cochrane said of the expulsion threat: "My concern is we do not know where this will lead but we have great people working there who are prepared to carry on and will not be deterred by this.

"But from this distance, people in London are concerned for them."

The BBC's Robert Pigott
"The authorities say they have outstayed their welcome"
See also:

10 Jan 01 | Europe
Moscow bans Salvation Army
07 Jan 01 | Media reports
Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas
14 Aug 00 | Europe
Sainthood for last tsar
20 Oct 00 | Europe
Russian church on rail mission
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