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Russian Orthodox Patriarch chosen

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Metropolitan Kirill accepts his election as Patriarch

The Russian Orthodox Church has elected senior cleric Metropolitan Kirill as its new leader, to succeed Patriarch Alexiy II who died last month.

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, received 508 votes in a ballot of the Church Council in Moscow.

Kirill - who is regarded as a liberal - has said the Church could play a greater role in Russia.

He was the favourite in the contest and was chosen ahead of the more conservative Metropolitan Kliment.

"I accept and thank the Church Council for my election as Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia," Kirill said after the results of the ballot in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour were announced.

Earlier, he called for unity and said the Orthodox faithful must resist Catholic and Protestant proselytising.

After Alexiy II's death Kirill had served as acting head of the Church.

Declining attendance

This was an election without precedent, the BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow says.

Russian Orthodox Church elders vote to choose short list of candidates - 25/1/2009
More than 700 clerics and lay people took part in the secret ballot

The last time the Russian Orthodox Church chose a leader was in 1990, when the Soviet Union still existed.

Since then, Russia has changed beyond recognition, and the Orthodox Church in Russia has been reunited with the Church outside the country, our correspondent says.

Across Russia thousands of churches and monasteries have been re-opened or rebuilt.

That was one of the achievements of Patriarch Alexiy II.

However, Metropolitan Kirill has already highlighted one of the great challenges facing the Church.

While some two-thirds of Russians describe themselves as Orthodox Christians, far fewer regularly attend services, our correspondent says.

Speaking to the Trud newspaper before his election, Kirill noted: "Millions of people have been baptized, and consider themselves Orthodox Christian. But the degree of their observance leaves much to be desired."

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