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Last Updated: Monday, 13 September, 2004, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Greece mourns top Orthodox cleric
Patriarch Petros of Alexandria
Petros was elected Patriarch seven years ago
Greece has begun three days of national mourning for Patriarch Petros VII of Alexandria, an Orthodox Christian leader who died in a helicopter crash.

The patriarch and 16 other people died when their Chinook military helicopter plunged into the sea off the northern Greek coast on Saturday.

They had been heading for the monastic community on Mount Athos.

The Greek air force chief was dismissed after the crash and blamed for a delay in launching a rescue operation.

Lt Gen Giorgos Avlonitis has been named as air force chief, replacing Lt Gen Panagiotis Papanikolaou.

No cause has yet been established for the crash, which occurred 30km (20 miles) off the coast when conditions were good.

Lying in state

The patriarch, 55, was the spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox Christians in Africa. He was accompanied on the flight to Mount Athos by Orthodox priests and laymen from the Alexandria area.

Flags flew at half mast on Monday, as Petros' body was taken to Athens' main cathedral. It is to lie in state there for 48 hours.

A funeral will be held in Athens on Wednesday morning and Petros' remains will be taken to Cairo later that day, said a Greek church statement quoted by the Associated Press news agency.

Mount Athos - a male-only community of Orthodox monasteries - has been a centre of Eastern Orthodoxy since AD963 and is classed as a semi-autonomous monastic republic.

A robot submarine is set to begin investigating the helicopter wreckage on Tuesday, as some bodies have not yet been recovered.

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