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Friday, February 26, 1999 Published at 15:17 GMT

World: Europe

Church denies funding Kurd rebels

Many Greeks sympathise with the Kurds

By Religious Affairs Reporter Jane Little

The Greek Orthodox Church has reacted angrily to remarks attributed to the Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan, that it funded the Kurdish separatist group, the PKK.

The Ocalan File
The head of the church, Archbishop Christodoulos, told the BBC that the allegation, which Mr Ocalan is reported to have made to one of his Turkish prosecutors, was totally untrue.

He said the church had only supplied food as humanitarian aid to Kurdish refugees.

Earlier this week, a Turkish prosecutor interrogating the Kurdish leader told the semi-offical Anatolia news agency in Turkey that Mr Ocalan had acknowledged receiving money from the church.

It is a provocative and embarassing revelation for the Greek Government and the church, which has been quick to deny any connections with the PKK.

Individual donations more likely

Observers say it is highly unlikely that the rich and influential state-sponsored church, which officially claims the allegiance of 98% of Greece's population, would give funds to the PKK.

But it is highly possible that individual priests had encouraged donations for the rebel movement.

Many Greek Orthodox believers sympathise with the Kurds and the church has traditional nationalist leanings.

Archbishop Christodoulos has himself upset politicians by denouncing Turks as "barbarians" and has called on Greeks to "liberate Constantinople" in reference to the historic heart of orthodoxy, now present-day Istanbul.

The church will be under considerable pressure to distance itself from Mr Ocalan's reported remarks, which is likely increase tension between Greece and Turkey.

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