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Last Updated: Friday, 11 April, 2003, 01:39 GMT 02:39 UK
Orthodox head warns of big clash

By Nick Thorpe
BBC correspondent in Istanbul, Turkey

Patriarch Bartholomew (right)
Patriarch Bartholomew says the UN should play a central role in post-war Iraq

The leader of the Orthodox Church, Patriarch Bartholomew, has warned of the danger of confrontation between the Christian and Muslim world in the aftermath of the war in Iraq.

Speaking in an exclusive BBC interview, conducted at his seat in Istanbul, the patriarch, who is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, also called for an important role for the United Nations in finding a permanent solution to the crisis.

Muslims in the Middle East would say that Christians came from the west and killed our children, our wives and our people, innocent people, so we have to fight now against them
Patriarch Bartholomew
Like the leader of the Roman Catholic church, Pope John Paul II, the 63-year-old Orthodox patriarch made no secret of his opposition to the war in Iraq, even before it began.

As it draws to a close, he spoke of his hopes and fears now.

"There is a danger to have a confrontation between Muslims and Christians as a result of the war... that is to say, Muslims in the Middle East would say that Christians came from the west and killed our children, our wives and our people, innocent people, so we have to fight now against them. This is a real danger."

UN solution

The patriarch went on to express the hope that the UN would be able to find what he called the final and peaceful solution of the crisis.

Patriarch Bartholomew has been the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church since 1991.

He has travelled widely in the Muslim world and has spoken out often for a closer dialogue and understanding between different faiths.



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